Poets ‘take over’ school for a day

SARANAC LAKE – What happens when three poets “take over” a school for a day? That experiment took place Tuesday at Saranac Lake High School.

Jon Sands, Adam Falkner and Samantha Thornhill took their poetry to the classrooms, hallways and auditorium.

The trio arrived at 8:30 a.m. and gave a writers workshop to about 30 writing arts students. Later, they interrupted classes with poetry and singing. Sands is the author of “The New Clean,” Thornhill of “Odetta: The Queen of Folk” and Falkner of “Ten for Faheem.”

“You make me say what I can’t say; you make me feel the tidal wave,” Falkner sang in one class while students clapped along.

There probably wasn’t anything more strange then when Sands was given control of the school’s intercom to announce the poetry reading in the auditorium.

“This is not Mrs. Plum; this is John,” Sands blurted out loudly over the loudspeaker system in between eighth and ninth periods. “Look at the person sitting next to you, and give them a high-five.” The sound of students high-fiving could be heard echoing down the hallway.

“That’s a school-wide high-five,” Sands said. “I was thinking, let’s just skip ninth period.”

Students met the poets in the auditorium for a more formal, “round robin”-style poetry reading that lasted for about 40 minutes. The topics ranged from race to fishing, gentrification to sex. During one of Sands’ poems, Falkner accompanied him by playing the piano to a jazz tune. Two students, Peter Curtis and Rachel Fortier, also read poems. After the reading, students went up on stage with the poets and discussed their work.

Natalie Thill, the director of the Adirondack Center for Writing, and school Principal Josh Dann set up the “Pop-Up Poets” event. Thill said having students discuss and look at poetry in a different way was the goal. When some people hear the word “poetry,” “They immediately shut down,” Thill said.

“Maybe you didn’t even know you liked poetry until you saw three poets walk into your classroom,” she said.

The Adirondack Center for Writing received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and also received money from the Saranac Lake Young Arts Association and the Adirondack Foundation’s Evergreen Fund to make the event possible.

The trio will take the show on the road, performing next at schools in Remsen and then Old Forge.