`Poetry Experience' Gives Youth A Voice

They call themselves the "Poetry Experience," an eclectic group of more than 40 people - some homeless, one with Down syndrome, and from various racial and economic backgrounds - who meet twice a month to read poetry.

Their poetry is as diverse as the members - from hip-hop to conservative. Some poems are about life experiences: love, death, domestic abuse, violence. Others are about politics, feminism, religion.

The group, composed mostly of high-school and college students, held an open-mike day yesterday at Douglass-Truth Library, their usual meeting place in Central Seattle.

Rajnii Eddins, 18, who attends Seattle Central Community College, started the group in August with his mother, Randee.

Growing each month

The "Poetry Experience" continues to grow by about four new members a month, mainly through word of mouth, Eddins said.

"I've met people on the street and said, `Hey, do you like poetry?' and invite them," said Eddins, who has been writing poetry since he was 11. "It's fantastic. It's a lot more than I expected."

His mother said: "They support each other. They treat each other like family."

There's no pressure for members to attend, and they can come and go as they please. Their work is not critiqued or censored.

"This is a very safe venue for people to expand," said Randee Eddins, who is also founder of Seattle's African-American Writers Alliance. "This is a chance for children to have a platform."

Alexandria Webb, 16, who attends Garfield High School, has been attending the poetry reading for about a month.

"It's really important as a poet to share your stuff," said Webb, who has been writing poetry since she was 12. "Hearing another's poetry inspires you to write and seek and create in yourself.

"Poetry is your inner feelings - this is my way to get it out and talk about it, vent. What I'm not good at expressing emotionally, I write about through poetry."

Alyssa Putnam, 16, who attends Lakeside High School and has been part of the poetry group since August, said she enjoys showcasing her work.

"This is a great group," Putnam said. "They're real supportive and open-minded."

Putnam, who usually writes about political issues, said she enjoys the freedom of the poetry group rather than writing in her high-school class, where the form is more structured.

`No one to say it's wrong'

"What's great about poetry is there's no form to it - no one to say it's wrong," Putnam said. "It's hard to have someone put the guidelines on you. Here, it's open."

Randee Eddins is hoping to publish an anthology of the group's work, but is still trying to find someone to underwrite those costs.

Meanwhile, the group is encouraging more people to join.

"We're inclusive - no matter what your story, politics," Eddins said. "I told the group at our first meeting, it's not important you understand each other's words but that you applaud their efforts."

Tamra Fitzpatrick's phone message number is 206-464-8981. Her e-mail address is: tfitzpatrick@seattletimes.com