Other people’s poetry
Written by
Morgan Baden
April 2011
Written by
Morgan Baden
April 2011

Afterwards, when my skin had stopped vibrating from the adrenaline of teaching poetry to 50 people, she pulled me aside to show me.


“So,” she said, this teenage girl with a beat-up notebook. “I’ve never tried this before. But I followed the exercises and I think I’m really going to finish this poem.”


She read me the beginnings of a sestina, her voice singing with excitement. I was already high from the afternoon workshop, floating above the Saturday Broadway traffic as the girls of Girls Write Now collected their papers and water bottles, and even though her sestina was unfinished and rough, it was the most incredible thing I’d read all day – and that included the Elizabeth Bishop poem I'd used in the first exercise.


This is what poetry does, I realized, as she read and re-read her work out loud, growing more confident with each line. The poem danced in between our shared air and then settled into me for keeps; a sort of perma-inspiration, a tattoo of a moment in time. I still remember her words, years later.


We all have tricks for when our wells dry up, right? Mine has always been to read, watch, or hear other writers. Their words inspire mine. That girl’s first attempt at a sestina kicked off a three-month period where I wrote nothing but sestinas, despite my best efforts to branch out, despite other looming deadlines; like her poem had been the permission I needed to write my own. Like it had been a gift she’d delivered just to me.


Here is a fact: when I leave a poetry reading, or a book signing, or anyplace where an artist has shared her work in public, I leave with tingling fingers. I leave with new ideas, a turn of phrase I hadn’t heard before, a sense of possibility. Several weeks ago, I left the GWN CHAPTERS reading – the first of the 2011 season – regretting my lack of paper and pen, because all I wanted to do was find a lonely corner of the room and go fill it up with poetry. I watched Deiona and Ilana read their shared poem aloud – they each used the other’s ending line as their next beginning – and I thought about how my own mentee and I had done that our first year together, swapping cinquains for days. It remains one of my favorite things we worked on, and my favorite things about writing: the shared experience of words.



I owe a towering, invisible debt of gratitude to other writers, especially the poets that inhabit the souls of the teenage girls of GWN. You have each been a part of my inspiration, a part of my own words, whether you know it or not. 


Morgan Baden is a communications director for Scholastic, where she manages the company’s social media and internal communications as well as the company blog, On Our Minds @Scholastic, and has ghostwritten a bestselling young adult novel. She’s been involved with Girls Write Now since 2007, first as a mentor and then on the Program Advisory Committee. She has never met a bad day that can’t be improved upon by a good poem.




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