by Betsy Franco
November 24, 2012
I had the privilege of working with seventeen girls in Pine Four at the Youth Services Center in San Mateo–thanks to The Art of Yoga Project and the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre. I taught creative writing to the girls for a total of five amazing weeks. Each session, one by one, they were let out of their rooms, which surrounded the lobby we met in. As soon as I saw the first two girls on the first day, I knew I was meant to be there.
Mats were laid out in a circle, like the rays of the sun, and we did a series of yoga poses to center ourselves and access our creativity. Then the writing began. The poetry and stories the girls wrote were honest, heartfelt, and powerful…and healing for all of us.
From the start they were serious about their writing, about telling their truth, and about their handwriting. They were even serious about the color of the paper they chose to write on. Everything mattered.
Since I have compiled four anthologies of teen writing published by Candlewick Press, I read a few poems from those books as a jumping off place each week.
The first week, I read a poem from my anthology, You Hear Me? poems and writing by teenage boys. It was by a boy from Detroit who listed what he wanted in his life. Then the girls wrote about what they wanted. One girl said she didn’t know what she wanted, was afraid what she wanted was bad for her, but she managed to write a beautiful poem.
One girl who said she was hella bored when she checked in about how she was feeling, wrote and wrote and wrote. She said she wanted what could never happen. So another girl made up a motto for all of us that “the impossible is possible.”
A handful shared their poems in their entirety and then each poet wrote two lines from her poem on a small paper. I collected them all, shuffled them, and read them as a collaborative poem, anonymously.[poem by a girl in week one]
I want to be free
I want to leave this place
I want to turn the key
I want these locked doors to open
I want to live lavishly
I want to forget
I want not only what money can buy
I want to be loved
I want control
I want my emotions to stop taking over me
I want to take my heart off my shoulder
I want to face my fears
I want to get it off my chest
I want to drown my sorrows
I want to cry out the pain
I want to win
I want to start over
I want to run and never look back
I want a new beginning
I want to turn this chapter
I want to be free
There were 8 girls.
The second week, I read poems from You Hear Me? and Falling Hard, 100 love poems by teens. The girls wrote their own poems using these poetry prompts:
Just because _____, doesn’t mean _____.
One girl announced that she’d been waiting all week for the writing session.
The girls wrote about being molested, about being tired of everything and everyone in juvenile hall, about cheating on their boyfriend and their boyfriend cheating on them, about how their mind wasn’t always telling them the truth, about how “even if I can’t love themself, I can still love you.”
We all snapped after every girl who volunteered to read. They introduced me to snapping instead of clapping.
I told them they were the wisest class I’d every taught and one girl said, “You’d be surprised what happens when you put someone in a cell.”[poem by a girl in week two]
Just because I am the way I am doesn’t
mean I don’t have a bad past.
Just because I was molested at a young age
doesn’t mean I’m going to let my daughter go
through the same pain.
Just because I cry about it doesn’t mean
I’m going to let it bring me down.
Just because I don’t say anything
doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Just because I don’t love my self ’cause
my past doesn’t mean I can’t love you.
There were 12 girls.
We got closer.
The third week, I read poems from my anthology Things I Have to Tell You, poems and writing by teenage girls. The poetry prompts were:
I am grateful…
When I read the collaborative poem using two lines from each of the girls’ poems, the new girl asked,” Who wrote these?” She was amazed at the power of the words and that they had come from the girls surrounding her and herself.[poem by one of the girls in week 3]
I’m a box full of secrets.
I’m a star that doesn’t shine because I’m dusted with shame.
I’m all my broken thoughts waiting to be heard.
I’m always trying to run away from
myself unconsciously and consciously.
I’m everything to someone, yet nothing
I’m a lost soul floating around
confused waiting to be found.
I’m forever killing myself with any
substance I can find because
I’m all pain inside.
I’m a robot following patterns of craziness
and thrills that temporarily make me numb.
I’m a person trapped in a mind that
controls me afraid to let me go and see
the real me.
I’m something I don’t like to feel so
I keep hiding my face, repeating my lines,
tricking my pain, mistaking happiness for
adrenaline, ignoring all my feelings, doing my
There were 10 girls.
Some had been released.
It was intense and wonderful.
The fourth week, I showed them how to draw up their energy in order to write-–by rubbing their faces and arms and filling themselves with light. I told them they could write, no matter if I was there or not. I gave them a message from my son, James Franco: “Find something you love to do and work hard at it.”
I read some monologues from my book, 21 Monologues for Teen Actors, and they wrote very short stories about their lives. I explained that there are so many genres to write in. Sometimes you can write intense feelings, sometimes uplifting memories or stories.
Writing has a “magical” power, and the girls began to inspire themselves. That’s what we found out, along with the fact that even the impossible is possible.
There were 13 girls.
We learned more about each other.
The fifth week, each girl picked a poem and performed it beautifully and proudly in the Pine Four Poetry Slam. We pretended they were being filmed and I taught them some performance skills. My actor son Dave Franco sent them a message “to breathe and relax and they would perform well.” One of the poems made the reader cry and made us all cry. Everyone was courageous and read their very personal poems to the group.
These are the Pine Four Writers. They are writers, and they will keep writing.
You should feel privileged that you get to read about them and that they are willing to share their poems in this blog.
Collaborative Poem: Week 1
I want to hit reality
I want to open my eyes
I want to be free
I want for people to care.
I want to meet Betsy’s son
I want my life to change
I want a man I can make my husband.
I want respect and loyalty
I want friends that aren’t fake and won’t say my business
I want to make my parents proud.
I want to have fun, yet remain on the right track.
I want to be free from the patterns that control
I want to learn how to deal with my pain and
my past instead of running away.
I want to live my dreams
I want to finish school
I want a steady career, a life
100,000 income a year, cars, freedom
I want things I know that
could never happen.
Collaborative Poem: Week 2
Just Because…Doesn’t Mean
Just because I don’t get
along with my mom doesn’t
mean I don’t love her
Just because I’m locked up doesn’t
mean I’m a criminal. Just
because I use drugs doesn’t mean I’m
Just because I’m here
doesn’t mean I can’t change
Just because I’m independent
doesn’t mean I don’t care about others
I remember once I saved a couple lives.
Just because I’m spending 3 months
Doesn’t mean I don’t remember
I remember when I first got this hairy
black and white thing it was on
my bed in its pink furry bed.
Her eyes barely open already a spoiled princess
like all my mom’s girls
Just because I wave at
someone doesn’t mean I’m flirting
Just because I say you’re cute doesn’t
mean I like you.
Just because I say I’m tired doesn’t mean
I want to sleep.
Just because I smoke weed
doesn’t mean I’m retarded.
Just because of what the mind
assumes it may not be what is
Just because I don’t say anything
doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt
Just because I don’t love my self
’cause my past doesn’t mean
I can’t love you!
Collaborative Poem: Week 3
I am like…
I am grateful…
I am grateful for a loving family and beautiful
I am like a baby bird waiting for my chance to
I love you no matter what. You’ll always
be my little one.
I am like a child
with no worries or troubles.
Only of being stung by a bee
or falling over and scraping my knee.
I’m a star that doesn’t shine
because it’s dusted with shame.
I’m all my broken thoughts waiting
to be heard.
I am grateful for you but when you
bring me down I don’t know where to
go who to run to. All I think about
is a world full of smoke, white powder,
pills and eyes full of red pain
I’m grateful everything happens for a reason.
I am like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,
I can’t wait to see my full potential.
I am grateful for my parents’ undying, hardworking, crazy
I owe them the world.
I am grateful for the little things I have
because I earned them with my own two
I am grateful for still having a beating heart
at the age of sixteen.
I’m shocked but it’s a cold world.
Our group saying:
Even the impossible is possible.