Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Editing the Denney Poetry Books

on May 11, 2011

Today’s post on the Denney Poetry Blog is “I Remember.”

This is a favorite poem of the youth at Denney. It’s real. It’s gritty. And it tells their experience.

But, this poem also brings up some of the questions I have to address when I edit the youth’s poetry book.

The process for publishing the Denney Poetry Books is a long one. Once the poems are written in the poetry workshop, we must obtain release forms for any poem which is to be included in the book. The release forms are sent to the address on file for each detainee and a parent or guardian’s signature must be obtained, and then the form returned to Denney. This is often where the process breaks down. If a form has not been returned, and we really want the poem in the book, the staff at Denney spends quite a bit of time making calls to the home. Sometimes, there is still no response.

Once we have obtained release forms for about 40 poems, then the editing begins. The hardest part  for me is trying to keep the youth’s voice in-tact. I may change a word or two, add a punctuation mark, or capitalize a letter. But for the most part, the poem remains as the youth wrote it. The poetry workshop is not a workshop about poetic techniques (although these come up sometimes), it is a workshop in which the youth are encouraged to express their voice and story through poetry.

In the poetry workshop, the youth are given these reminders:

1. No  profanity

2. No sex or violance

3. No glorification of crimes or addicitons

It is the “no sex or violence” rule that causes us the most problems in editing. We want to remain open to the youth’s experience, and for a lot of them, sex and violence is their experience. BUT….the poems in the book also need to be able to reach many audiences including: general school populations, educators, counselors, lawyers, judges, and community members. I remind the youth that although sex and violence is a part of their lives, and not to be diminished, when it is glorified or over the top, this turns people away from the youth’s stories. We want people on the “outs” to hear their stories, not be turned off by them.

However, at the same time, the poetry books are inspiration for the youth still in detention. If the poems become too watered down, the youth push poetry writing aside and write the workshop off as just another place that doesn’t “get them.”

When I hand out the new poetry books, I always hold my breath, for just a moment, until I see that yes, once again, we have created a piece of work which speaks to the teen’s experiences and lives.


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