Members of a Malibu High School creative writing class recited their original poetry in front of friends, family and members of the community on Wednesday, May 28, and Thursday, May 29, for the Kids on Coffee event inside the Bank of Books bookstore in Malibu.
Pamela Eilerson, manager of the bookstore, said it is important for teenagers to have an outlet for their feelings during their adolescence.
“The teenage years are so difficult,” Eilerson said. “I think that the more they can put their thoughts into words and the words to paper and express those thoughts orally, I think it’s a really great thing. I think it’s great for their mental health, if nothing else.”
The two-night event included mostly seniors from the high school, who will graduate on Friday, June 6. Their poems centered on their perspectives on living in Los Angeles.
Naomi Joshi, 17, said her poem about L.A. compared an outsider’s and insider’s view of the city. It was her first time reciting her original writing in front of an audience.
“It was actually pretty scary,” said Joshi, a senior in high school. “I haven’t done something like this before, so it was definitely something new, but I felt really good after. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt kind of enlightened, too. It was really nice, I enjoyed it.”
Ede Bellcrowder, who is also a senior, said her experience in theater helped with her nerves while reciting her poem, and said it was also her first time reading her work in front of others.
“It was a great experience,” Bellcrowder said. “It was kind of cool to get direct feedback from people as I was reading and after.”
Eric Carrier, who teaches the creative writing class at Malibu High, recited a poem called “Schoolsville” by Billy Collins at the beginning of the event to set the mood for the night. He said he tries to teach his kids to be themselves through their writing.
“I tell them at the beginning of the year that they’re all strange people, they have strange ideas and strange thoughts, and to embrace that and celebrate that and to understand that that’s who they are and not hide it, but become a part of who they want to be instead of who we’re telling them they should be,” Carrier said.
Mainly an English teacher, Carrier likes being able to tell his budding writers to let go of restrictions in their work.
“It’s nice to be able to say to them in a creative writing class, ‘forget about it, forget about the rules. Let’s express in the way that you feel most natural and the way that you want to express yourself,’” Carrier said. “It’s nice to give them the freedom to choose how they want to be themselves instead of making them be a certain way.”
Bellcrowder said Carrier has had a great impact on her development as a writer.
“I think I am the writer I am because of his teaching,” Bellcrowder said. “We’ve gotten really close and he just influences a lot of how I write.”
Joshi said she likes how Carrier can be constructive about her writing, but also be truthful.
“He’s very honest, but he’s not judgmental in any way,” Joshi said. “He can explain his opinion to me and I won’t take it offensively in any way because I know that he’s trying to help me out, and he does help me in many ways.”
Carrier will no longer be teaching the creative writing class at Malibu High, which left his students reflecting on what he meant to them as a teacher.
“I feel like he cares a lot, not just about your grades or anything, but just as you as a person,” Bellcrowder said. “Especially with writing, I think it’s kind of important to have somewhat of a personal connection with your teacher because then it’s more of a mentor and it’s not so much someone telling you what to do and then grading it. So it’s more of like a friendship-type thing and that makes it easier to express yourself fully.”
Eilerson said Carrier taught her children when they were in high school, and is proud to hold an event at Bank of Books because of those ties.
“It’s terrific to hear the students reading their wonderful poetry and it’s terrific to host an event for the school because I still have very strong, positive feelings toward the school,” Eilerson said.
Bellcrowder felt that having the event in a bookstore was fitting.
“Obviously books are great literature, so it was a just kind of like influence and inspiration around us while we’re reading what we’ve written and it’s like the younger generation surrounded by the older generations that have already done this for years,” Bellcrowder said.
Joshi believes the poetry-reading event gives the community a chance to get to know the writers in a different way.
“I think it brings everyone together, which is really nice,” Joshi said. “It shows the community a lot about people that they didn’t even know.”