Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Lifeline Poetry Writing Exercise with Youth In Juvenile Detention

on October 22, 2009

Most of the time when I’m working with the young men and women in juvenile detention, I kinda forget they are in jail–at least during the poetry workshop.

But yesterday, two comments were made which made me pause. First, a boy asked, “Have any new songs come out in the last 30 days or so?” Not five minutes later, I was talking to another young man about how the leaves are turning colors. He looked at me and simply said, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen them.” I realized he’d been in detention since early August.

When I write with the youth we do everything from open topics to very specific structured topics and formats. One thing the youth struggle with (like most writers) is one of the following:

1. How do I begin?
2. I’ve got a good start, but now I’m stuck
3. I can’t figure out how to end

4. I don’t have a title for the poem.

In order to help with those problems, I came up with “Lifeline Poetry.” I always enjoyed watching “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” and the lifelines of call a friend, ask the audience, or 50/50.  In this poetry exercise, I wrote prompts on small pieces of paper and put the paper into a basket.

We passed around the basket and each youth drew one of the “lifelines.”  I told the youth they could use the line to begin their poem, in the middle of their poem if they got stuck, at the end of the poem, or even as the title of the poem.  The following were the “Poetry Life Lines”

Beware of…

Nobody can say…

I used to…

I’ve always wanted to tell you…

You see me as…

But really I am…

What they don’t tell you is…

At first he/she told me..

But then…

I never told you…

I never wanted…

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2 responses to “Lifeline Poetry Writing Exercise with Youth In Juvenile Detention

  1. Good exercise! Working with Juvenile detention is hard work, I know. But rewarding, too!

  2. Thanks! The kids really enjoyed this one. It seemed to free up the “stuck” syndrome.

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