By Martin Chang and Portia Choi
Photos by Portia Choi and Martin Chang
When Brendan Constantine shopped at big box stores, he saw the same word over and over. “I was shopping at a place like Smart and Final and they would have industrial versions of different products, and they were all about how to get the most out of them,” he said.
This inspired Constantine to think about teaching poetry differently. “If I address poetry in that way, as a thing that is practical, something that is not just a hobby, or because something that you do because it’s pretty, but a day to day means to clarity. That could be the way to teach poetry.”
This is how Constantine came up with the workshop titled Industrial Poetry. He taught the workshop at on June 1, 2017 at Walter W. Stiern Library of California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB.) The workshop was so popular that it had to be moved to a larger room in the library.
Constantine performed for the students at the 5-hour workshop like a comedian giving high energy examples of techniques and methods of inspiration. These methods include writing exercises and prompts with titles like A Change of Season, Poverty, Divorce, I was so Drunk, and After the Wedding. Or to write about “We were never to talk about . . .” and “What are the stars waiting for?”
He spoke of the “openness of possibilities.” That there are two directions of most poetry. One is the lyrical that moves by association and the other being the narrative that moves with time.
From vocabulary to job hunting, Constantine believes that the teaching of poetry can help people communicate. He believes that this communication can bring people together. “It’s not enough to tell you I’m sad. I haven’t told you very much. If I can get you to feel it with me, maybe I get you closer to what I am talking about. People with skills with things like simile and metaphor and image will just write a better letter, even a letter for a job,” he said.
This can extend to the current climate of division. “People are being separated by beliefs. These divisions are becoming greater through semantics, people not being to articulate how they feel. I feel that right now, with a country that everybody is saying is divided, that anything that we can do to stimulate communication is great.”
On a deeper level, teaching poetic expression can help people become more complete. This is what Constantine believes he can give to students. “When it comes to poetry, metaphor is a gateway to compassion. If I can fill a room full of people, who on a daily basis, is tasked to empathize with everything from nature to a chair, that is someone is also concerned with how others feel, that to me is a healthier world.”
Runda Osman took the workshop with her daughter Rawiah Mohamed Osman. Runda enjoyed experiencing the workshop with her daughter. She said, “In my culture, we do not communicate by talking but by spending time doing something together. So taking this workshop was doing something with my daughter. I am Middle Eastern, Sudanese. It is the first time for me to be in a writing workshop.” Rawiah wrote when she was younger and is planning on writing poetry again.
Jorge Lopez took the workshop to “improve writing poetry. I write short stories and plays at CSUB.” Lopez said, “The workshop was fun, liked it a lot. Creative way to write poetry.”
Priti Devaprakash of East Indian heritage, also took the workshop. She found Constantine “animated, enthusiastic and creative.” She enjoyed one writing activity called Why and Because. In this activity, one side of the class wrote five sentences starting with “Why.” The other side wrote five sentences of “Because.” In random order, a participant said a “why” and then a person on the other side responded with one of their “because.”
Devaprakash enjoyed the freedom of the activity. She said, “In school classes there are rules on what you can’t do. The workshop showed how randomness goes into creativity.”
During the workshop, Constantine did not read any of his poems even though he has several published books of poetry. His first collection, Letters to Guns, was released in February 2009. The book is used extensively in schools. His website is Brendanconstatine.com.
Here are poems from two of the participants of the workshop.
Jorge Lopez wrote the following poem during the workshop, in the activity he was asked to write a his choice.
My dream will be found
by someone who talks to loud.
They will lose their voice
and utter no sound.
Being forced to listen
to the noise of the crowd.
They have talked over so much.
Rawiah Mohamed Osman provided the following poem that she had written previously for the Kern Poetry website.
by Rawiah Mohamed Osman in 2015
There are heroes who are fighting for our freedom and voice
They are courageous, brave, mentally and physically tough
Will always be waiting for the day they return so we can rejoice
God, please bring them home safely and keep them strong which is enough
While we worry about what we will wear today, they worry if they will see their families once again
Those are our troops who without we wouldn’t be who we are today
Unlike the immortal heroes we grew up with like Superman and Wonder Women, they are real women and men
They are mortal, they fight and die, while others get captured and never able to get away.
Even though you might not know them and they don’t know you
They are the reason you are here to stay and will protect you
While you’re complaining your life is hell, they are going through it for you
But they won’t quit or accept defeat because they always push through center of gravity
Because what’s starts with an S and protects as all
Soldiers, thank you to all the women and men who serve