To students involved in Breaking Ground Poets, poetry is not only a method of creative expression.
It’s an opportunity to say the things that need to be said without judgment and discover who they are along the way.
BGP begins its spring series of poetry slams this Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Tunkhannock Public Library from 5 to 8 p.m.
Katie Wisnosky, a Tunkhannock Area High School English teacher, formed Breaking Ground Poets in 2011 after she noticed there weren’t a lot of activities available for young people interested in performance arts.
When she showed her students the documentary “Louder Than a Bomb” that year, they were intrigued by the idea of poetry slams and wanted to bring them to the Tunkhannock community.
Wisnosky said the world often censors young adults, and it’s important to listen to them more than speak at them to figure out why they behave in certain ways.
“The best way has always been to read their writing and their poetry,” she said. “It also helps them to get rid of trauma or to navigate through issues that they are dealing with.”
She asks her students “if you can’t speak it, then can you write it?”
The library will host another slam from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. The final slam is scheduled during the same time at the Everhart Museum in Scranton on Saturday, April 6.
Kieran Bedford, a Tunkhannock Area junior, got involved with the group during his sophomore year when he was in Wisnosky’s class.
The poetry unit the class went through inspired Bedford, who didn’t have experience writing poetry previously outside of some songs he wrote as a kid, to write his own poems.
Bedford’s poems usually center around the topics of homosexuality and sexual assault. At the upcoming slam, he plans to read “Hoe I Am Not,” which talks about the real definition of a “hoe” and how a person is not a gardening tool.
He also plans to read “Lips of a Woman” about his first experience with a guy, as well as “Father of the Year,” where he talks about his sexual assault.
“It’s easier to express [those experiences] in poems instead of explaining them really, because with poems, people normally don’t really ask questions, they just kind of snap,” he said.
For Bedford, the most enjoyable part of BGP is the writing process because he has an opportunity to work with other poets and improve himself as a writer.
BGP also provides an outlet for Bedford to express himself in a judgement-free zone, which in high school, he said could be hard to find.
“With everybody supporting you, it puts the barrier you have down and makes you more comfortable when people throw hate at you,” he said. “It’s like a forcefield that only good things can get through.”
Rebecca Sweigart, a Tunkhannock senior, joined BGP last year during a time where she was trying to find her voice and discovered it’s an accepting environment to grow in.
“I feel like it’s helped me find my identity and be comfortable with who I am,” she said.
At this weekend’s slam, Sweigart plans to read a “closure” poem about the first person she liked and the emotions that accompanied the experience.
“I wasn’t ever really sure how to put how I was feeling into words,” she said. “I kind of ended it with positive emotions towards the person.”
Tunkhannock junior Trejon Turner joined BGP as a freshman when one of his teachers recognized it might be beneficial for him to put thoughts and feelings down on paper.
“It did really help,” he said. “Where I am right now, that’s not what I’m doing, but I still go to the open mics and what not because just hearing other people’s stories also really helps, just putting things from life together, figuring stuff out.”
Throughout his time with BGP, he’s written about issues he’s been through and other things he just wanted to talk about. That year, he also attended the Brave New Voices competition in San Francisco.
“It let me say things I wanted to say that I haven’t been able to say, or even say things in a different way,” Turner said.
Joseph Kildare, a Tunkhannock junior, has plans to read a poem for the first time this weekend at the slam about his ex-boyfriend and how he shaped his identity.
While he has some stage fright when it comes to performing, he said he knows the poetry community is welcoming.
“[Wisnosky] told me before that they’ll help you get over your stage fright. They’ll talk to you and hype you up,” he said.
Kildare is also a member of Breaking Boundaries, a mentorship program with Keystone College that BGP houses.
“We talk about different things that we can possibly relate to, and we get along well because we’ve all gone through the same things and it just kind of helps us all better ourselves,” he said.
Wisnosky said she often reminds poets with stage fright that everybody in the room was once mentally in the same position.
“But if you take time to get up there and share your story with this audience, you never know who needs to hear that story in this moment,” she said.
In addition to poetry slams, BGP holds open mic nights at the Dietrich Theater once a month, as well as writing, editing and performance workshops.
Breaking Ground Poets is not exclusive to the Tunkhannock Area School District. Young people interested in joining can contact Wisnosky at firstname.lastname@example.org.