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Uncivil Rights to Write: Backlash on Courtni the Poet

January 2, 2013

The  headline read, ‘Courtni Webb, San Francisco High School Senior, Suspended For Writing Poem About Sandy Hook Shooting.’  I don’t know if I picked up on the headline because I’m a mother, a poet, or just a human being trying to understand those senseless shootings of those babies in Connecticut like everyone else. At first, only a few lines of her poem were being broadcasted around the country and judged. Some thought that while she had the right, her timing and words were insensitive and that her words were ‘dark’.

If I can’t be loved, no one can
If I can’t be happy, no one will
I understand the killings in conneticut

The reviews were mixed, some wanting zero tolerance in schools said that she should be suspended so that more tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook wouldn’t be repeated.  Some focused on her spelling and the fact that a high school senior couldn’t spell. Others thought the school had violated her rights since the poem was in her personal notebook and that the teacher had violated her rights when she went through Courtni’s personal notebook without her permission. Admittedly, the whole country is  still shocked about the shootings and so it seems so was a 17-year old girl, who wrote a poem about it and was suspended from school. So many people had asked about the poem that her mother posted the poem on Huff Post (San Francisco).   Her mother wrote: “My daughters poem…you all wanted to read…

They want to hold me back

I run but they attack
My innocence I want back
I use to smile
They took my kindness for weakness
The silence the world will never get
I understand the killings in conneticut
I know why he pulled the trigger
The government is a shame
Society never wants too take the blame
Society puts these thoughts in our head
Misery loves company
If I can’t be loved, no one can
If I can’t be happy, no one will
I understand the killings in conneticut
If every starts out the same, why don’t we have the same opportunities
Why are we oppressed by a community of haters and blamers
When you don’t feel loved you hate the world
When you hate the there’s no exceptions
Why should they have innocence, when ours is gone…

I want to thank her mother for posting the whole poem because it helps to put her daughter’s poem in perspective. While people are trying to understand the killer in the Sandy Hook slayings, why not someone affected by the killings, who didn’t do anything?  Courtni’s poem indicated that she wanted her innocence back.  Her poem spoke of being ‘attacked‘ as she was trying to run away.  Was she being attacked?  She spoke of how she ‘used to smile‘ and how her ‘kindness was taken for weakness.’ Courtni said she could understand, NOT that she wanted to do the same. I would suspect that the question, “What would make a person do something so heinous, had to go through many people’s minds.” Newcasters were asking the same questions!  Everyone was trying to understand!  How many would be fired or expelled by the same standards that were used against this girl (for trying to understand?) What if someone wrote a song, or play, or book (as they tend to do) about this tragedy? They would become rich, so what’s so different about what this young girl did?

This young poet answered the question of “Why or How could someone..?” through her poetry. Perhaps she was responding to,”Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his moccasins.” Courtni spoke of injustice, “If every[one] starts out the same, why don’t we have the same opportunities?” She spoke of  not being loved as a possible reason why the killer could have done what he did.  And she challenges society to take some of the blame, “Society never wants too take the blame- Society puts these thoughts in our head.”  She felt that he was disconnected, unloved and unhappy AND perhaps that’s why he did it.  Perhaps it was a cry for help. Perhaps it was just her mind trying to make sense of such a senseless act. Perhaps it was a wake up call for society to understand that a violent warring society produces more of the same and it affects us here and not just our troops in war torn countries.

How much violence is there in some communities, on television, in games, in sports, in our children’s textbooks at school, and in America’s sordid history? Have you looked at the violence and bullying stats lately? According to National School Safety Center and reported on MBNBD, “90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying!” First we create an environment of violence, then we as a society turn a blind eye to our children’s pain, THEN WE CENSOR them from communicating what they are thinking and feeling, and FINALLY when they EXPLODE we ask,”What’s wrong?” So, who’s to blame? Consider these facts from the Neilsen Ratings,

Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000—

Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000-

Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79%.

And remember the young man who murdered the children in Connecticut had a mother who had weapons in the home which he had easy access to.  I’m not condoning what he did, I’m just saying society facilitates this disconnection in people.

As a poet and a mother of a daughter who is a poet. I am greatly disturbed by this young lady being suspended. When I was a child  a half century ago, I wrote about oppression and my daughter does the same today. Writing was my therapy and does the same for my daughter. I’ve never hurt anyone and neither has she. Some things we write we share and some don’t. We write what we feel in our own personal journals. Setting a precedence like this (of closing the one outlet a person has to reflect and communicate safely) is dangerous because it could potentially scare kids who might find healing in writing out their thoughts.  Courtni was just trying to understand our crazy, mixed up, and violent world. Perhaps we should spend a little more time trying to make sense of this world too! Too many adults have just stopped trying to understand.  Women are abused every few seconds. Human trafficking has become a 32 billion dollar annual industry. Over a million children are dropping out of school every year.

When people (young or old)  become insensitive and stop caring or trying to understand others, we call them cold, inhuman, and dysfunctional. I feel that Courtni was just trying to understand. If she were a musician, perhaps she would have written a song.  If she were an author, she’d have written a book.  But she was a poet, so she wrote a poem. While most thought, “Too bad, so sad,” and went back to their ‘regularly scheduled programs’, Courtni was still haunted by the killings.  Poets and sensitive people somehow need to try to make sense out of the senseless actions going on in our worlds. Poetry is an outlet and humanity’s conscience. How are her words any different than the music lyrics in some songs, or the ranting threats of some of our radio personalities? Some get paid; some get suspended. Poets have been gifted and tasked to capture humanity’s story and that was what she was trying to do.

I’m Barbara Talley, the poet who speaks and inspires.  To find out more about me check out my promo sheet or visit  my website.

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