Inspiring Youth Through Poetry
Updated: May 17, 2022
by Aleathia Drehmer
In 2009, I started a micro-zine called Durable Goods. I chose that name because I wanted to instill in the readers that the work inside was something to last. The digital age of publishing was pushing ahead full steam. This was a great way to reach numerous people very quickly, but it took away some of the romance of publishing and poetry for me. It was also a time of increasing struggle in our country. Though we were digitally connected, it pulled us apart as a physical community. I wanted folks to go to their mailbox and smile. I wanted a physical connection back. Durable Goods was born of this idea.
This zine ran until the middle of 2013 with eighty-five issues under its belt. I had reached every continent, every state in the US, and cataloged this zine in many libraries across the world. But best of all, I made friends with my subscribers. It was a loyal and kind group of people and I was sad when I had to shut it down. By the end, I was folding five hundred pieces of paper a month by myself as well as doing hand stamped envelopes, hand stamped and written quote cards, and making cute extras to send along. It became all I did and the cost of that was my work, so I said goodbye.
Last fall I was on a weekend art getaway with my child to Buffalo. We’d rented this adorable Victorian apartment. The weather was terrible, but the art was inspiring and the food was amazing. One rainy afternoon, I submitted some work to Rusty Truck, an online zine run by Scot D. Young. He had published me there before in the mid-2000s. He accepted my work rather quickly this time, and we struck up a conversation that would change the trajectory of my writing career in such a positive way.
Scot talked about the school he runs and how one day a week he teaches a small poetry class with students who have suffered terrible abuses and have spent their lives in and out of foster care. Over the last few years, I’ve been thinking of working with youth and poetry, but trying to figure out how to start something like that in my community was daunting and, with the pandemic looming, it just wasn't the right time. Poetry saved my life as a child. It still saves my life all the time and gives me the biggest connection to the world. I wanted to help Scot’s kids reach beyond his classroom. Without even thinking about the work that would be involved, I offered to bring Durable Goods back just for these kids. I would rename it Durable Goods: The Missouri Collective.
I got to work immediately and put together a submission letter for the kids so they would understand the project and then it was up to Scot to help them gather poems to send for submission. Durable Goods is a tiny zine with a tiny amount of space, so sometimes this challenges writers. What the kids sent me broke my heart. In those pages were tales of physical, sexual, and emotional abuses, of teenage broken hearts, of identity crisis, of raw anger, and all with an underlying need to be loved. My respect for Scot grew immensely as he is often their shoulder to cry on. He is a strong man with a giant heart and he gives his strength to these children when they need it most. It is hard to carry other people’s trauma, something I know all too well from my more than a decade's work as a nurse in the Emergency Room, and Scot is doing a fine job.
The next step was finding a readership for this new iteration of Durable Goods. I made a few posts on Facebook and some of the old crew jumped right back into the fray as if DG had never taken a break. I had old friends from high school join in and people I’d never met before inquiring how to be a part of it. Many of the people who subscribed paid subscriptions forward, and I could offer the series for free to those who couldn’t afford it or weren’t sure they wanted to take a chance on it. One generous donor, John Clayton, paid for ten subscriptions plus sent a large amount of extra money. Together, this allowed me to get seventy folks in on the project to show these kids the power of the poetry community in the United States and around the world. This year we had issues going to England, Spain, and Brazil.
What happened next was what dreams of community effort are all about. Clayton also sent money to Scot so he could buy books for the kids. The poet laureate of Missouri, Maryfrances Wagner, also sent books. Dr. Martina McGowan sent books. Some writers gave private readings to the class on zoom, and their end-of-year project was a reading of their own, where this DG community came to support them.
To hear their work come from their own voice had me in tears the whole time. There were several of us crying. Part of me was tearful at everything they had to endure, but also at their bravery and willingness to do big things with their life.
This spring the kids were in an anthology of Missouri youth writers and Robert Hansen of Poems-for-All in San Francisco put each of the children in their own tiny book of one poem. This all came from a rainy day conversation between two poets who not only care about the craft of poetry, but care about kids. Neither Scot nor I imagined all of this would happen. We were looking to teach these kids how to get published and how to believe in themselves. We wanted them to see that the world beyond what they’ve experienced wasn’t all bad.
Many of the same children are going to be in the class next fall and they will be in Durable Goods again, but this time with direction. The first half of the series will work with prompt writing and the second half will be a generative writing tutorial from Oakland poet, Paul Corman-Roberts. Now that we have shown the kids what they can do, it’s time to make them stretch those creative muscles.
If you would like to subscribe to Durable Goods: The Missouri Collective, you can sign up on the waiting list for the fall 2022 series. It has eight issues and costs $6.50 domestic and $13.00 international. Every month for eight months, you’ll get a piece of mail with a zine and some extra goodies. There are only 75 spots available and I make no profits on this zine, just good will. You can send me an email with your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put Durable Goods in the subject line.
It is important to give a hand up to people in need, not a handout. I think more people don’t help those in need because it feels like a heavy project for one person to manage, but if you have opportunity and connection, try. Generosity gets returned to you in so many unnameable ways. Support your local youth programs. Be a mentor. Share your experience with youth and remember to stay open to imagination and wonder.
About the Author
Aleathia Drehmer lives in Corning. She has shared her thoughts on the art of poetry throughout April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Learn more about her at www.aleathiadrehmer.com.