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Evan Cleveland
Evan Cleveland writes fiction that has appeared in national and international journals. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. For the past ten years, he has taught creative writing to students of all ages, first through Writers in the Schools in Houston and most recently with The Writer's Garret in Dallas, where he managed the Writers in Neighborhoods & Schools program. He's led students in settings as diverse as public and private schools, hospitals, museums, youth shelters, and juvenile detention centers. He lives with his wife and two young children in Dallas, where they share the space with many guitars, books, toys, a varying number of fish, and an aquatic snail named The Misfit.

My Comments

One of my students at Long Middle School wouldn't immediately strike anyone as a poet. He's an active sixth grade boy whose first language is Spanish, and in my first writing experience with him, his interest was drawn to Six Flags or talking with a friend who wasn't in the class. For whatever reason, though, he likes hanging out with me, and he chooses to join our creative writing club as often, if not more, as he chooses the cooking club. Lined paper and pencils can be a tough sell compared to class-made quesadillas or whatever it was they did with lamb the other day (it looked amazing, and I'm a vegetarian).

A week before DaVerse Lounge, we worked with smells. I brought in a variety of scents that were hidden within brown paper sacks, and the students had to jot down whatever memory impressions bubbled up in their imaginations. This student joined a bit late, but he quickly bought into the assignment and caught up as well as he could. He chose to write about a scent that reminded him of applying a topical muscle cream to his mother's sore shoulder, a beautiful piece that began with these lines: “I pretend that I was a doctor / putting some cream on my mom's shoulder. / I don't mind / because she's my mom.”

We had a chance to revise the poem a bit, and he was the second reader at DaVerse. He stood up in front of the large audience—the lights bright, the band behind him improvising accompaniment—and read it as we'd practiced it. He did an outstanding job.

But what struck me was our conversation two weeks later, the first time we'd spoken since the event. I was talking to him and some other students, and I mentioned to the others how this student had been the second to read and had beautifully performed his poem. His eyebrows lifted. “That was a poem, Mr.?” he asked.

In that moment, it clicked. He hadn't simply written down an assignment, perfunctorily following directions, making sure to have a canned, five paragraph response to some prompt. He'd created a poem, something different entirely. Those odd examples that I bring into class every week, with their strange lines and intense imagery, aren't only the literary forms for adults in universities somewhere else. He, too, can write poetry; he, too, is a poet.