Texas Poet Laureate Dr. Carmen Tafolla visits Terlingua School, shares stories of becoming a writer

By John Waters, Publisher

The Texas Poet Laureate Dr. Carman Tafolla visited Terlingua School students on February 4, as part of the Planting Poet Trees program. The program’s byline, “Sowing Seeds of Inspiration in Texas Public Schools” was confirmed by Terlingua students in response to her visit: 

“I liked how she expressed the poems and told us to keep writing.” – Gimena, 6th  grade

“She taught us to be yourself. She was an inspiration to me about writing.” – Shyla, 3rd

“The words that she said made me think of words to tell my feelings.” – Jenny, 5th

“It was really cool when she was acting out those sketches.” – Damian, 11th 

“She talks like us, using Spanish and English. She sounds like us.” – Luisana, 10th 

“She was funny. I learned you can express your feelings and write a poem.” – Melenie, 5th

“I liked writing poems and hearing them.” – Gabriel, 11th

Tafolla told the students about growing up poor in San Antonio, where, she said, the city council did not care about the people in her neighborhood and she grew up thinking that she did not matter.

After a library was built nearby, books took her far away, through imagination. Every time she borrowed a book, she would turn to the “boring page” that listed the publisher, and usually the location was in New York City. As a young writer, Tafolla began to write a book about New York, a place she had not been to. Then she realized she needn’t write about far away places and people, she could write about what she knew.

She recanted a tale about visiting a local tortillería, where the proprietor was an old woman who, Tafolla thought, must have been ”the oldest creature in the universe” and who had frail hands that looked very much like the corn masa that she had been rolling out for her whole lifetime.

After speaking to students and reading poetry, Tafolla discussed with students poems in both English and Spanish, including the following:

Chato

No ma’am, yo no se nada!

as the class laughs

He hides his worn tennis shoes

under the desk

and his eyes turn low where we can’t see

what they’re thinking

I hear his exasperated sighs

as he plods through the math problems

And when he gives the teacher his paper

his smile pleads with her to be kind

She doesn’t look up from her desk

Only I

see the hope that still grows

from the hands he is squeezing together

head down

and shoulders

slumped

Tafolla told the third through twelfth grade students gathered in the Big Bend Library, “You guys are the leaders of the future,” that each and every one of them is unique, and “Your voice is what you tell the world.”

When asked by a student how many books she had written, Tafolla paused and said “At least twenty.”

Tafolla was the 2015 Poet Laureate of Texas. As part of her mission as Laureate, she has committed to bringing the power of poetry to twenty schools throughout Texas. The Terlingua School has the distinction of being one of the few selected via a competitive process.

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