by Shaun McMichael
After graduating from the Zine Project, Michelle had a goal: to graduate.
Craving a challenge and wanting some structure, Michelle chose to attend Washington Youth Academy (W.Y.A.)—an academic boot camp run by the National Guard out in Bremerton.
W.Y.A. is no joke. Youth who enroll have to wake up at 6am, say “yes sir”, drop and give 25 push ups frequently, and run P.T. when they’re not doing school work.
Michelle—a mural-painting, poetry-spitting skater grrrrl— had to turn in her trusty trucks and paint brushes for a 6 month supply of black unmarked shirts, army boots and fatigues.
She headed out to Bremerton determined, excited, but not knowing what to expect and not knowing how she would keep up her poetry. Zine Instructor Shaun sent her off with a bunch of prompts, hoping the rigor of W.Y.A. would give her some inspiration.
Six months and many many push-ups later, Michelle is graduating with her high school diploma and is still writing.
Through Michelle’s own drive and the support of case management at W.Y.A. and UDYC, Michelle persevered and stuck with it to the finish line, using writing to cope along the way.
“I still use the writing concepts you taught me,” Michelle mentioned to Shaun not long ago.
But it wasn’t just the writing concepts from Zine that helped Michelle be successful at W.Y.A. The interview skills taught at Zine helped prepare Michelle for other interviews she had to do at W.Y.A.
“Also the reading-poetry-out-loud part,” Michelle shared. “It really helped me learn to communicate better. Especially to a crowd.”
Zine prompts its interns to read out loud—in front of each other and upon graduating. At Zine Graduation, in front of a group of twenty or so, Michelle rose to the challenge and knocked it out of the park (click here to hear her read her piece “A Dedication to My Life”). At W.Y.A., Michelle went on to read her poems in front of even larger audiences of peers and staff.
She came by UDYC the other day to present her Senior Project to Teacher Mike and Zine Instructor Shaun.
Michelle shaking hands with her teacher, Mike
Not surprisingly, Michelle presented on Spoken Word Poetry.
In her presentation, Michelle showed a picture of her in her fatigues and military cap before a line of sober cadets, as Michelle threw down some of her verses. The picture proved, for doubters of all ages, that poetry can thrive anywhere. If you’ve got heart. If you’ve got a voice.
Michelle’s love for writing carried the presentation that day.
“When people like my poetry and relate to it, I like that,” Michelle shared. “It gives me the strength to write what they can’t and to speak it for them.”
Because of poetry, Michelle interacts with people differently and has a different relationship with words in general. “When I talk to people now, I think about what words I’m going to say before I speak them. Sometimes I even make rhymes when I don’t mean to.”
Michelle closed her presentation with a reading of Andrea Gibson’s “Say Yes” and gave special emphasis to the following stanza:
“Never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart
play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken and you’re their last chance for sun
Play like there’s no time for hoping brighter days will come
play like the apocalypse is only 4…3…2
but you have a drum in your chest that could save us.”
(Click here to watch Andrea Gibson perform the full version).
Just like Andrea Gibson, Michelle’s drum is steady, percussive and resonant. And while she may not always be marching in line like she’s done for the last six months at Washington Youth Academy, we at Zine know she’ll always be beating.
Thanks Michelle! And congratulations.
Readers, thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Michelle’s zine A Day in the Shoes…