Monday, 12 January 2015

Take A Poem; Share A Worry: The Power of Anonymous Expression on Campus

U of A's Own Post Secret

While I was walking through CAB I noticed a bulletin board with a piece of paper that said “Leave a Poem.” Intrigued, I decided to investigate who had put it up, and why. After a little digging, I soon found out that the posters were a part of a bigger effort that was being put on by the students of Professor Christine Stewart's Fall 2014 WRITE 294: Introduction to Writing Poetry class.

Andi Sweet and her group (which included Jinlong Tan, Miya Villarena, and Andrew Swainson) took a stack of posters, some that “Leave a Poem” (with space for students to share something creative,) or “Take a Poem” (designed to let students tear off and keep lines from existing poems). For a week the posters were placed in locations all over campus, all the way from ECHA to Business. At the end of that week Andi and her group collected the mangled skeletons of the “Take a Poem” posters to form new poems with the lines had been left behind.

The group also collected the U of A original poems that had been scribbled on the posters. And, they were thoroughly surprised by what they found. For instance, one student had used a pin to punch out “it doesn’t matter where you’ve been/ no one can withstand the wrath of the mighty pin” on a poster that had been in the Humanities Building. Others had taken equal amounts of time to make sure lines rhymed. In general, the poems left were often ironic and ‘punny’, with food being a very common theme.  Andi suspects that “the students always have their hunger on their minds,” hence, it's the easiest thing to write about when presented with the opportunity to share their thoughts with others.

“Art in general serves as a form of catharsis, and anyone can relate to that. Poetry as an art medium is very accessible. Painting requires paint, and prose requires a formal understanding of grammar and syntax. Poetry exists outside of this… There’s something magical about the way you can express yourself in an abnormal form without restrictions or limits.” 

Overall, Andi says that if her group’s campus-wide physical manifestation of poetry made even one person pause and look at it, it was a successful project. She was pleasantly surprised by the number of sincere responses, and felt like the project’s synergistic energy and open space says something positive about the students on this campus and the willingness of the community to let people create without judgment. 

Just a few worries...

And when it comes to creating without judgement, Andi's classmates Gavin Doyle and Kristen Felt encouraged campus to just that with their anonymous note project for the same course.

They (along with fellow group members Shannon Coyne, Robert Crandell, and Alexandra Fortis) had decided to leave slips of paper around campus with the message: “What do you worry about?” Respondents were able to write out their answers and then submitted them in drop off boxes places that had been placed around campus. Gavin Doyle and Kristen Felt were truly amazed by the number of responses that were sent in, and were surprised by how honest the comments appeared to be. The responses ranged from frivolous things like “there aren’t enough cats in the world,” to the classic “my GPA,” to more dark subjects like “having to be alive”.  Some of the other unique ones included, “What will happen to my wife when I die” or “I fear that my students talk about me behind my back and think I am a failure as an instructor.”  They've created a Tumblr page here that displays their finds. 

To Gavin and Kristen, the project represented a “microcosm of what people worry about as a community.” “The project made us realize how much [emotional baggage] someone carries around [with] them, and how this is so often juxtaposed with what people actually give off or what you see.” It was interesting for the group members to see the effect of sharing fears anonymously, as participants made their confessions freely and seemingly without fear of judgment. “There is something powerful about just acknowledging these thoughts- an appeal to having your fear paid attention to and heard by someone else, like someone will read it and care, no strings attached.” 

Though the worries expressed are somewhat dreary, Gavin and Kristen look on the bright side to suggest, “It makes you admire people. We are all worried but we keep going and are persevering.”

After interviewing students from the Write 294 class, I left feeling a renewed sense of appreciation for the climate of our campus. Unique projects like these help us realize and acknowledge our greater campus community. It seems indicative of a sort of U of A solidarity – we’re a community that’s willing to work collaboratively to make these types of projects happen, and we’re also share a collective trust and sense of support with one another. These projects provide evidence that we are strong, united, and resilient together, so long as we take the time to notice and listen to one another. It’s proof here that if we do, cool things could result.

Correction: An earlier version of this post indicated that Alexandra Fortis along side Gavin Doyle, however it was Kristen Felt that was interviewed.

About the Author


My name is Kiera and I’m a fourth year Biological Sciences student with an English minor, trying to keep life interesting. I like to consider myself a glass-half-full type, and am most at peace spending quality time with loved ones (with a little wine and cheese on hand). When I’m not trying to balance my student group with studying, I am testing out different hobbies, slowly working towards becoming a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
I am drawn to creativity and adventure, which there seems to be an abundance of amongst the U of A’s bright students. I hope to shed light on some of the inspirational individual stories that have resulted from unique campus opportunities, and also hope to encourage other students to tap into one of the many meaningful learning opportunities that are available outside of the classroom. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the U of A’s stories that make our campus community so rich with experience and opportunity. 


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