The magic of poetry: Texas’ Poet Laureate speaks to local students

HARLINGEN — “Crack, crack, crack.”

The word itself has a rather disturbing sound. Repeated three times, it becomes even more harsh.

This is how repetition can become a powerful tool of expression, said Carmen Tafolla, the 2015 Poet Laureate of the State of Texas.

Tafolla was speaking to eight, ninth and 10th graders at the Harlingen School of Health Professions yesterday. She managed to hold their attention for more than an hour with performances of her work and by connecting poetry with popular music.

Tafolla’s visit to the school was part of the Planting Poet Trees project she created to bring presentations to children in the state’s poorest districts.

The school applied in August and learned in October it had been selected.

Tafolla, in a deep purple dress and aqua blue shawl, spoke eloquently about poetry.

“We are not going to be poets,” she said, taking on the voice of someone in the medical field resisting the idea.

She then recounted a retired oncologist whose work has been published in “Voices de la Luna: A Quarterly Poetry & Arts Magazine.”

“His poetry says something about his life,” she said.

Poetry, she said, allows people to say things they can’t say any other way.

“I really feel really bad,” she said, offering an example of a statement that doesn’t really say much.

“I was looking for sunshine and only got rain,” she said. “You understand that.”

Poetry can even be in music. She asked a student about his favorite songs and then asked him to replace the words with “la-la-la”, causing everyone to laugh.

“What would happen if the songs didn’t have words?” she asked the audience.

She really grabbed the students’ attention when she talked about discrimination and how, in years past, children were spanked for speaking Spanish. Hispanics were frisked entering and leaving the cafeteria, and she deepened her voice as she imitated someone saying, “Those Mexicans carry knives.”

One of the most powerful messages she extended was the importance of writing from the heart.

“The best writing comes from being who you are,” she said. The presentation was followed by a workshop with 55 selected students.

The students felt inspired.

“I really learned more about writing,” said O.J. Cerda, 14, a freshman. “I’m going to write a little bit more and make it more insightful.”

Genesis Garay, 16, felt the presentation would help her writing.

“I think I got motivated by her,” said Genesis, a sophomore. “She made everyone feel special. Everyone has a voice.”