Quinn Kirby is just back from talking to fourth-graders at North Oakview Elementary School, where she read a poem by Shel Silverstein and performed one of her own, “I Can Count on More Friends Than Fingers.”
As Northview High School’s official Poet Laureate, Quinn hopes she made a productive impact on them.
“I want the little kids to not grow up thinking about poetry the way I did,” says Quinn, admitting she used to think of poetry as “cheesy” clichés about love and finding yourself. “I want people to know as long as you like it, it’s good. If you feel it and it comes out of you, it’s a poem.”
December 1, 2015 // 7:17 am
A cigarette is slipped from its cellophane cell and
last night’s lightning pools into ponds on the asphalt.
A flame, aflame
little spark, little lightning, little light.
Lifts it to his lips and ignites.
Fog inhabits his empty space, a bronchiolestarred pillowcase.
He dreams in clouds, in wisps he whispers from pursed lips, but he lets them fade farther even than himself, into the lungs of another
His exhales become ash, secondhand smoke cemented in their ribs, an involuntary inhalation of calligraphy on stale stationery.
These hopes make it harder for him to breathe just as they inscribe their intentions on the ribs of another, and there they escape him.
Still, he searches for his words in their wake, forgetting how to pronounce his name because hers is as often on his lips as the sticks he inhales that he wishes were her.
That’s how the Northview senior approaches her own poems, such as a dramatically spoken call for a new male consciousness she labels “meninism” (see video below). Arguing today’s men didn’t ask for their traditional roles any more than feminists did, she declares forcefully, “they’re a new breed, and they’re something we need.”
Quinn is the school’s third Poet Laureate since the honor was instituted in 2013-14 to promote poetry in the district. She will speak to Northview elementary and middle schools, a high-school art class and community groups. She also edits a school poetry blog, “NHS Coffeehouse,” and invites district residents to contribute.
It’s a role she takes seriously, as she does the poems she performs in a Thursday night poetry group at Maya Buzz Café in downtown Grand Rapids. She calls it “a community talent show every week.”
Don’t Scar the Children
Quinn concedes she “hated” poetry until a friend invited her to join a poetry club her junior year. She discovered poems can be about anything, and that writing them helps her not only express her feelings, but understand them. As she puts it, “The hand does the thinking for me.”
Quinn puts her thinking online at her blog, poetsandprose, where she posts photos, videos and riffs on senior year, beauty and the responsibilities of being a Poet Laureate (“Try to find some of my own poetry that won’t scar the children for life or confuse them out of their wits”).
♥She’s hoping to get some poems published, and was pleased The Grand Rapids Press published her haiku about fog. “That was the first real, ‘Hey, you can do this!’ for me.”
Long-term, she’s aiming for photojournalism, in which she plans to major at Central Michigan University next fall. She wants to make an impact with her stories, but keep tapping into her feelings with poems.
“We’ve got seven billion people on the planet,” she said. “I’ve got to start networking to make a difference.”