Coaching Young Voices Is My Livelihood
Sara Lihz’s Story
I went to my first poetry reading the year I learned to drive. The host, an enthusiastic if a bit awkward man, was the most energetic thing behind the mic. I was determined to outdo him, so I read my poem about how much I hated my parents (I was 16) with gusto. After the reading, the host came over, introducing himself as Matt Mason, and asking if I wanted to do a feature reading at the Bookworm with William Kleofkorn, a real, honest-to-god poet.
This moment changed my life. Matt encouraged me and told me about other readings around town. He introduced me to slam poetry, competitive performance poetry, and convinced me to drive to Des Moines to make my first slam team. I wrote, graduated, went to college and majored in creative writing, got my MFA, and found that my real passion is not writing, or at least, it’s not just writing, but rather, it is teaching others to write and find their voices.
I’ve been working for the past 12 years in a variety of roles that allow me to help teenagers and adults learn to write and perform poetry. I worked with students at Millard North High School and UNL to perform poetry as part of their forensics teams. I joined the Nebraska Arts Council to go into high schools and tell them about Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest that helps students to tear down some of the walls between themselves and poetry. I teach English and composition full-time at Metropolitan Community College.
Most recently, however, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Nebraska Writers Collective to be a Louder Than a Bomb Coach at Skutt Catholic High School. Louder Than a Bomb started in Chicago, and is a program that brings slam poetry to high school students by putting poets in schools and bringing touring poets through the city. As a coach, I meet with students once a week and bring them poems to read or videos of poets performing. Then they write their own poems and eventually learn to perform them. It is an incredible gift to help a student tell their story, to listen to their young voice grow bolder and more confident. I was not a shy teenager, but many of the students I work with are not as outgoing as I was. Matt Mason was the voice of encouragement for me, and I see in many of my students a need for that encouragement, an older poet who will take them seriously and offer both compliment and criticism. I am incredibly proud and fortunate to be able to repay the gift Matt gave to me.
About Sara Lihz:
Sara Lihz Staroska is a writer, performer, and teaching artist. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Creighton University and an MFA from California College of the Arts. She works full time as an English Instructor at Metropolitan Community College and is the author of six chapbooks including The Papier Maché Repair Shop Opens for Business. She has been published in a variety of anthologies and literary journals including: Slamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong (Winner of the Nebraska Book Award), Idiolexicon, and The Untidy Season. She also writes occasionally for the Apollon, a multi-genre arts and entertainment venue in Omaha.