Racy poetry stirs controversy in Brooklyn school

December 23, 2010 2:40:28 PM PST
Some racy poetry has turned up in the hands of fifth graders in Brooklyn.

A consultant hired to work in city schools gave out her book of poems, and what was inside shocked parents and the school principal.

"I stare into space, analyzing this place where I've been heartbroken and made some mistakes," an excerpt from "If I Don't Do It" reads.

The poem is about having the confidence to follow your dreams. It's one of 22 poems in the book "Streets in Poem Form" by 26-year-old author Tylibah Washington.

She's used her book at more than 50 schools during the last two years to teach a writing workshop called Poetry in Motion.

"The program isn't about streets in poem form, the program is about Poetry in Motion and expanding and learning more about yourself through your writing," she said. "It's not about my book."

At the end of a four-session October workshop for 5th graders at PS 279 in Canarsie, Washington gave out 60 autograph copies.

But one parent saw some racy text from a poem not used in the workshop and complained to a teacher. It's too graphic for print, but makes references to oral sex and President George Bush getting sexually aroused when he went to war.

"This is about being a great writer," Washington said. "Great writers are able to illustrate what they need to say through their writing. And that's what I did."

But Washington only uses a few poems from the book for the workshop, not the graphic ones. The principal sent out a letter to parents apologizing for the oversight, and told them to send the books back to school. Twenty-five were returned.

Washington's godfather is New York City Council Member Charles Barron, who wrote the forward and stands by the young author.

"For her to put it in that language and use that kind of imagery, she's merely trying to connect with what they already see," Barron said.

The Department of Education issued a brief written statement, saying, "This author has registered with the DOE and this allows her to reach out to schools to see who would be interested in her program."

Eyewitness News showed the book to some parents.

"It's appropriate for schools, poems definitely, but not what I read," said Kofi Renaud, parent of a fourth grader. "Because I don't want my son coming home talking about, uh, you know."

"I think they shouldn't even have the book read to the school, period," parent Sandi said. "A lot of stuff is going on, and kids are looking at videos and things like that, so I don't recommend it period. At all."

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