Santa Catalina School welcomed poet Catherine Tufariello as the 2019 Writer in Residence from March 11-15.
It was Tufariello's third visit to campus as Writer in Residence. She met with English classes throughout the week, held informal chats with students, and sat on a panel of judges for the school's first Pi Day "pi-ku" contest.
In several English classes, she talked to students about riddles, one of the oldest forms of poetry. "Riddles go right to the heart of what poetry is," she told one freshman class. "They make the ordinary seem strange and unfamiliar. They make you see things in a new way." After challenging them to solve some riddles, including a few from The Hobbit as well as her own, she had them break into groups to craft a riddle about something that can be found on campus. For example:
Going to and fro
But doesn't move or go
Takes you here to there
And has your weight to bear
It always brings you down
Yet can turn your frown upside-down
She also taught lessons on metaphor, meter, and paradox, and talked to students about the process of writing poetry.
"My visit was really wonderful, and it reminded me again of what a special place Santa Catalina is," she said. "The girls are not only exceptionally bright and motivated, but supportive and kind as well. They made me feel very welcome, as did the faculty and staff. It was a pleasure to watch students work collaboratively on exercises like writing verse riddles for their classmates to guess, or writing limerick summaries of 'serious' novels. ... The students had excellent questions, too, about poetry and the life of a writer. They have such curiosity, openness, and enthusiasm that interacting with them was a real tonic for me."
Tufariello won the 2006 Poets' Prize for her first collection of poems, Keeping My Name, and has been featured in numerous anthologies. After a first career in college teaching and administration, she decided to pursue a second career in the medical field. She now works as a community mental health nurse and is doing graduate coursework in clinical mental health counseling, with the goal of working with adolescents and young adults.
Tufariello said there's a place for poetry in mental health practices. "One of the important roles poetry can have in mental health is to encourage individual self-expression," she said. "Like journal writing, poetry is a creative outlet for expressing feelings and making sense of personal experiences, which can be therapeutic in itself." With a lot of focus on mindfulness these days, including as part of Santa Catalina's health and wellness initiative, poetry can help the writer stay in the present. "The poem preserves what was extraordinary about that sliver of time so it can be experienced again and again, both by the poet and others."
Finally, there's the way poetry, like other forms of creative expression, can make us feel less alone. "By writing poems we can share with others the experiences that have made us who we are, and by reading poems we can learn what it's like to walk in another's shoes," Tufariello said. "Such moments of human connection are vital to mental and emotional health, and to the health of communities, too."