Children sat quietly, listening to every word uttered from the stage, until they could snap their fingers just like the beatniks did in the 1950s.
Students at Mosby Woods Elementary School listened to their classmates read poems about love, dreams and fun. The day began with sixth-graders reading poetry in the school library, and, as each bell rang, a new set of classes would gather for their turn. Some wrote their own poems, and others borrowed their favorite poems from books or Web sites. Regardless of where the poems came from, each seemed to bring smiles to the students' faces.
“It’s magical,” said Patti Pecoraro, reading resources coordinator at Mosby Woods Elementary, and organizer of the Beatnik Poetry Café. “It brings the best out of even the shyest child.”
The “Beat Generation” refers to the group of writers in the 1950s known for their use of nontraditional forms of writing, and their rejection of conventional social values. “Beatniks,” refers to the youth subculture that followed these unconventional ways.
Beatniks commonly gathered in coffee houses to read and listen to poetry, and according to Pecoraro, they snapped their fingers instead of clapping.
“They were just too cool to clap,” said Pecoraro. “That’s the cool way to do it.”
FOURTH-GRADE CLASSES read their poems just before lunch, on Friday, April 23. Teachers and students decorated the school library with art and put framed Shel Silverstein poems on every table, turning the library into a mock café made to resemble an old coffee house. Some of the students wore 1950s-era clothes and accessories to add to the character of the day. Each student waited patiently until turn to read, listening carefully to his or her friends and classmates read different poems on the small stage.
“It makes me feel good and thoughtful,” said forth-grade student Allysen Kaminski of the poems she wrote.
Allysen sat in the front row, listening to her classmates.
All eyes in the room were drawn to the modest stage, yet each child stood in the spotlight and read poems over the microphone. The teachers sat toward the back of the room, watching from a distance.
Principal Mahri Aste and Assistant Principal Jay Nocco made an encore appearance on the stage, presenting a special reading of two Shel Silverstein poems. Nocco played the bongo drums while Aste read “Sick." They then switched places as Nocco read “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too,” as the children laughed at their energetic performance.
“Sometimes it not just the words, it’s how you say them,” said Nocco, after switching the microphone to the echo setting.
Karen Dennis’ fourth grade class read a poem about teachers and school. Dennis said the class brainstormed topics for the poem, and wrote the poem as a group.
“They came up with all of the words,” said Dennis. “I was really impressed.”
As the end of the fourth graders class period neared, one last teacher took the stage to entertain the classes. Iraida Rodriguez, ESOL teacher, read a poem about new rules at school. “Welcome Back to School,” a poem by Kenn Nesbitt, had the children in stitches. They stared in awe as Rodriguez read “recess will last all day long,” and “your video games are your homework.” Their smiles faded slightly when she read the final line, “Yes, that’s what I heard from my teacher before I woke up from my dream.”