She set our pens on fire.

At my last job, we were lucky enough to have a staff member who was friends we Letta Neely. She arranged to have Letta come and do two days of writing workshops with our adult literacy students and give a reading. Some really amazing writing came out of those two days. The first day, the work was a little tenative, all of us getting used to Letta and how deep her questions seemed to want us to go. Writing was in no way new to our students. Myke, the wonderful mentor-teacher-friend that I shared the program with, is a writer and I’m a writer, so it made sense that we’d spend a lot of time making our students write. But Letta was a stranger and it felt a little weird peeling back our skin with someone we’d just met.

By the second day, we were past our nervousness. We let all kinds of stuff out on the page. We had two days without Letta to let our work simmer, to go back and revise. And on the Friday, she came back for the reading, which she shared with students and staff, and it was beautiful.

I haven’t thought about her in a least a year (the last time I took a look at the chapbook of hers I bought that day), but yesterday I left a comment for Zetta and I mentioned Letta Neely.  And just like that, I remembered the wonderful experience she created for me, Myke and all the students in our classes. 

So I went to Google to see what would come up, and what came up was a link to YouTube (all hail YouTube!).  Just be warned, she doesn’t always use language my mom would approve of …

(Should I even bother to mention how many of those I’ve heard … recently?)

So happy to discover that she’s still going strong.  I think it’s time to bring her work back into my classrooms …


13 thoughts on “She set our pens on fire.

  1. The universe is working some serious mojo today…all this year, actually! So for the past six months, I have had a raggedy post-it note on my desk–the sticky stuff has worn off, and it just floats there next to my phone…last fall a student came to me and said, “I just met this amazing poet–her name’s Netta something–can we bring her to campus?” And I said I’d look into it–finally figured out her name was Letta Neely, wrote it on a post-it, and made a mental note to see about bringing her to our school. You mentioned her name on my blog, and then I read your blog and it clicked! Now I’m *really* going to bring her to our school–my students have to coordinate a campus-wide event involving a black woman writer; last year it was Nikky Finney, who was amazing–this year, fingers crossed, Letta Neely…thanks for sharing that awesome clip (which is now on both my course websites)…z


  2. How cool! I think you’ll love her. She was wonderful with my students. I was teaching a literacy class, and it was often hard to bring in speakers/presenters because a lot of people have odd, off-putting behaviors with adults who can’t read or can’t read well, so Myke and I were always so careful about who we brought in. We didn’t ‘screen’ Letta at all, just trusted our co-worker who knew her. She was, in the end, the best of our special guests in the way she clicked with our students. It was beautiful. Good luck!


  3. So cool,
    I am listening to your poet as your response to my slice arrives at my email. How is that?
    What a great tool, this You tube is and what a great writing/reading/performing experience.


  4. Elizabeth

    When I was in grad school one of my favorites were the visiting poets/writers events. So often we writers can get stale in our approach and listening to others talk about their work and hearing them read can sometimes spark us to the pen and paper. That’s another reason why I’m enjoying this Slice O’Life stuff so much. Not only for the challenge, but also for the new voice I’m “hearing,” including yours. Thanks for the post.



  5. Pingback: poetry appreciation « Reality Outran Expectation

  6. I don’t know how I missed this one. I dismissed my students, put up the volume and proceeded to laugh!

    One to add to the list:
    Is it offensive for my son to do a speech as Obama wearing brown make-up?


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