By Amy McElroy

Source: Media Poetry Studio

Last April, Erica Goss, Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, was dreaming and planning an all-girls summer camp where she could combine slam poetry and the latest video technology. The experience grew into something Goss now says “exceeded my wildest expectations,” as she looks back at last year’s program and plans this year’s.

“We had a pretty outgoing group. Instant friendships formed. The first days they were bonded and they became a really supportive, high-fiving group. The fact that there were no guys there had something to do with it.”

Source: Media Poetry Studio

“We never talked about the all-girls aspect with students, but we did with parents, informally at pick up or drop off. Both the teachers and the parents felt, ‘I wish I would have had this camp,’” Goss says.

But surprisingly to Goss, most of the girls were really shy about using their voices and said their voices sounded really weird to them played back. “They would say ‘ooh no, don’t use my voice.’ That was a hard one, recording their voices. I didn’t anticipate that at all, that they would have any particular qualms about their voices.”

The structure of the camp was a balance of close supervision and giving the kids freedom, Goss explains. The staff stopped enrollment at eight students to avoid hiring second teacher because the kids were often supervised by one teacher at a time. Their ages ranged from 11 to 16.

According to Goss, this year’s camp will include both returning students from last year—who have been clamoring for more since the end of last year’s session—and new campers. Despite this mix of experience, Goss says, “The camp is small enough that we can tailor the instruction to each student.”

The work involves intensive, hands-on instruction with the video equipment. David Perez, Santa Clara’s Poet Laureate, introduced the girls to the high-end, single-lens reflex (SLR) video cameras and worked with them on editing. The staff instructed under the following belief, Goss says, “You give them the best equipment you can afford, and they will be respectful of it.”

Often, in response to students’ questions, Goss explains, “We would ask them, ‘What do you think you should do?’ They were very flexible and independent once they realize that’s how we were operating.”

The first week, students spent the mornings writing, testing art supplies, playing poetry games, and experimenting with writing exercises. Students also heard guest speakers and performers, including co-founder and Cupertino’s Poet Laureate, Jennifer Brown.

After the first week, Goss noticed a shift among the students, and they would often say: “I need to finish my poem, so I can think about it as a script for a film.”

In the afternoons, the campers worked with Perez on various video formats and techniques for filmmaking. “They attached lenses to look at stuff very closely.” Goss explains. “It was very funny to hear them say, ‘ooh,’ ‘gross,’ ‘weird,’ about their hair, skin, ears, and the walls, and to realize what they see isn’t really what they see.”

“They were asked to describe what they see in metaphoric terms. Teaching poetry is about how to describe the world verbally, and video is how it would be to describe that visually.”

It’s Complicated from Media Poetry Studio on Vimeo.

For Goss, the most exciting day occurred the day after camp, when they arranged a showing of the students’ work at the Milpitas Library, like a film festival complete with an introduction for each student. About 60 people attended the event, which was open to public, including family friends, teachers, and people from poetry community.

“Every child was so different and worked so hard to make sure every girl could finish and make sure they had something they were really proud of.”

For Goss, there was a kind of poetry in the teamwork she saw in these girls. The staff fostered an environment where, Goss says, “No one shines until the end. There are no superstars. I want this to translate into the workplace, to foster more teamwork in the workplace.”

Dear Future Self from Media Poetry Studio on Vimeo.

The camp will be held the last two weeks of July (18-29) and will be open to girls ages 13 to 17. They are currently accepting applications.

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