Natasha Carrizosa wrote her first poem in fifth grade. She recalled one of her peers writing a limerick poem and thinking, “If she can do it, I can do it.” A young Carrizosa ran home from school that day and told her mother she wanted to write poems. It was then that Carrizosa learned that his biological father was a poet – a crucial moment for his childhood, for his identity.
“My mother is black and my father is Mexican; identity and belonging are things I struggled with in my youth,” Carrizosa said. “So sharing my story and trying to make connections is important to me – poetry and the word connect us all.”
Carrizosa started writing in middle school and she never stopped. Today, the MexiAfricana writer is an award-winning poet, speaker and teacher, who travels across the country and the world performing her work and leading workshops – her next adventure being the Roaring Fork Valley.
Carrizosa is one of three teaching artists who will be in residence at Aspen Middle School this week as part of Aspen Word’s Fall Poetry Project. With support from the Aspen Education Foundation, Aspen Words is launching its new Poetry Workshop Series, in which every AMS student has the opportunity to engage in the written and spoken art of poetry.
Starting today and continuing through the end of this week, the three guest poets – Carrizosa, Joaquín Zihuatanejo and Logan Phillips – will lead workshops in their respective middle school English classes. Each ELA class will work with the same teaching artist for two in-class sessions, and there will also be several opt-in extracurricular workshops held throughout the week for students to work closely with their poetry teacher.
The fall workshop series concludes with a poetry slam at the district’s Black Box Theater on Thursday, October 13, where AMS students will have the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned and perform their original work. The event – which will be hosted by Carrizosa – is open to all students, teachers and administrators, as well as friends and family.
Additionally, this week, Aspen Words invites the public to attend Thursday night’s “Spoken Word Poetry Showcase,” featuring the three guest poets who will each perform their own original works. The free event will take place at the Marble Bar in the Aspen Mountain Residences from 6-7:30 p.m. Craft cocktails from Marble Distilling Co. will be available for purchase, and a book signing will follow the writers’ spoken word performances .
Aspen Words chief executive Caroline Tory said that while the nonprofit literary association has cultivated youth education projects for more than a decade through its “Writers in the Schools” program, this series of poetry workshops marks a first for the organization in terms of focusing on one school. for a fixed period.
“We hadn’t worked very deeply with a school over a week-long period, it was always about spreading our funding as widely as possible to reach as many students as possible,” Tory said. “But with the support of the Aspen Education Foundation, we were able to design this in-depth program to reach every middle school kid.”
Tory went on to explain how Aspen Words is looking to replicate this model for other Roaring Fork Valley schools in the future, stating that the organization has great contacts in the literary world and is working to bring in more these accomplished writers right in the classrooms.
The three incoming writers for this week’s poetry project have each previously worked with students in the Valley through one of Aspen Words’ youth offerings, Tory said. Phillips — who is a bilingual poet, performer, and educator currently living in Arizona — sits on the Aspen Words Creative Council and has led several classroom workshops throughout the Valley over the years. Carrizosa and Zihuatanejo have both taught virtual youth sessions for Aspen Words during the pandemic.
Each assigned a grade at AMS — Carrizosa will double and work with fifth- and sixth-grade students — teacher artists have developed their own programs to incorporate into their designated classrooms, Tory said. She referred to the accessibility of poetry for middle schoolers, speaking of the free nature of the literary craft in terms of less emphasis on grammatical rules.
“The great thing about poetry is that it’s a more accessible written form for students in grades five through eight; it can start with one line and then you write another line and another and at the end of a workshop you have a poem,” Tory said. “Coming back from an hour-long lesson after creating something is powerful – it gets kids to think of themselves as writers.”
Carrizosa also spoke about the liberating attributes of poetry and how it sparks power. The poet said that when she teaches a workshop, she often prompts prompts that begin with students writing a single word. Gradually, students are encouraged to record what they see, feel and know, Carrizosa said, turning words into lines and lines into poems.
“I tell students, ‘I don’t care about spelling or grammar, all I care about is the truth — your truth,'” Carrizosa said. “I know not all kids love poetry and some kids are shy, but everyone has a story and we all come from somewhere – it’s something worth celebrating.”
To learn more about the Aspen Words Fall Poetry Project, visit aspenwords.org.