Uncivil Rights to Write: Backlash on Courtni the Poet

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.

What do you know about Martin?

Original Poem, (c) All Rights Reserved

What do you know about Martin?

There was so much more to him than his dream

He spent his life waking up the consciousness of both black and white people

And those descendants from both sides who were stuck in-between


What do you know about Martin?

Did you know how courageous he was, how he stood firm and did not run

In the face of dogs, police, and angry mobs, he practiced what he preached

For he believed that love was more powerful than a hateful heart and a smoking gun


What do you know about Martin?

Of course you probably knew he was a master of speech and oration

He had degrees from Morehouse, Boston University, and Crozier Seminary College

And in 1955, he received a PHD, to show how much he valued education


What do you know about Martin?

What has his legacy taught or inspired you to do?

Are you one of the proud or one of those wondering, what is the big deal?

Are you aware of how his mere living has changed life so dramatically for you?


What do you know about Martin?

Were you aware that he was only 26 when elected first president of the MIA

It was the Montgomery Improvement Association that helped organize the busing boycott

That plucked both he and Rosa Parks from obscurity and sent them both on their fateful way


What do you know about Martin?

Did you know that it was his ability to lead and inspire that gained him a prominent role

In December 1956 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama’s bus segregation laws

But it was Martin who helped motivate the people of Montgomery to keep on walking for a full year prior to that in the rain, sleet, and the cold


What did you learn from Martin?

How much or how little does it take to provoke you?

Does it take something that is life threatening to make you respond with violence?

Or will you go off if someone looks at you wrong or steps on your shoe?


It was during this ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ in 1963

That Martin Luther King gave his famous, I have a dream speech

And it is these prophetic words that even 40 years later we reflect back on

For although many have sacrificed their lives, this dream is still beyond our reach


Black and White, Jews, and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics

All are still fighting each other, still fighting to be equal and free

We’ve figured out the part of holding hands and singing the song

But there is still too much injustice, hatred, and disunity


So when you echo the dream of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr

What do you really know about this man and his contributions?

How many strides that he fought for are we in danger of losing?

How many new battles have we stood up for and won?


Martin Luther King put everything on the line for freedom

Even when bombs where thrown into his home with his young baby and new wife

He said if we won’t stand for something we would die for anything

And that is how this great man lived his entire life


And then one day he talked of seeing the mountaintop

And told his brethren he would have to go alone

And at the age of 39, in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated

And God called his faithful and weary servant home


So what do you know about Martin

Do you know all that he did for you?

He said we all can be leaders, because we all can serve

So what kind of service can we expect now from you?


(c) 2007-2010, Barbara S. Talley. ‘What Do You Know About Martin’ is from the upcoming book, Just The Right Words: Special Occasion Poetry, to be Released in 2010.   Barbara is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, and author of six books.   Do not reproduce without express written permission from the author.  To contact Barbara, phone 301.428-4831 or www.thepoetspeaks.com

I’ll Race Toward the Sun

One of these days I will grow old

But that day doesn’t have to be soon

Society tells us we must grow old, gray, and useless

But I plan to be singing to a different tune


And I hope and pray that when that day comes

That my most important work will be complete and done

And I won’t be afraid and trying to relive my youth

Instead of dragging my feet, I’ll race toward the sun


The sunset of my life will be joyous

The sunset of my life will be glorious indeed

From the mundane, unimportant, unspiritual ties

I plan to be detached and freed


I’m eating healthier and exercising more

I’m keeping my mind stimulated so it can do what it was created for


I’m not rolling over and letting the aches and pains take over

I’m singing to a different tune these days

I have to let go of familiar foods, customs, and beliefs

I have to consciously choose life and change many of my old ways


Maturing in age is not synonymous to growing old

Or with atrophying, growing weaker and having low energy

This body was designed to live long and help us prosper

But we changed how we thought about our mind and body


Our minds can create the reality we wish to have

Our bodies are temples, powerful beyond compare

There’s so much we can do to preserve them both

But first we must care, then learn and become aware


You must eat right by choosing live whole foods

You must drink plenty of water and get enough sleep

You must exercise and stretch your body and mind

And beware of the company you keep


Because before you can grow old in your body

You must grow old first in your mind

Choose friends carefully because their words have influence

Thoughts multiply and generate more of their kind


One of these days I will mature in age

But I plan to continue to grow wiser each day

By avoiding dead processed foods, caffeine, and drugs

And to listen to what my body has to say


If my body and mind need rest I’ll give it

If it needs raw fresh foods and vitamins I will comply

So that I will be able to live fully up and until

The day that my spirit breaks free and my body dies


I plan to run toward the sunset

And not drag a poor diseased body in tow

I plan to run toward the sunset

And be happy when it’s my time to go


(c) 2007-2010, Original Poetry of  Barbara S. Talley (The Poet Speaks)- All Rights Reserved

From the 2010 Book Release, ‘Cheer-Up’- Poetry to Get You Back on Track