Artists are Guardians of the Human Spirit: Poetry as Tool to Support Spiritual Development in Teachers and Students (2 of 2)


Brandon “B-Mike” Odums

“Artists are Guardians of the Human Spirit” - Anna Deveare Smith 

In the first blog, we looked at the ways we understand spirituality in education and why that may be helpful in these times for teachers and students. In my work as a poet and educator for the past fifteen years, one of the clearest ways I’ve seen this spiritual support achieved is through the practice of writing, reading and learning with poetry.

As a reminder, I’m writing from the understanding that spirituality is defined as having a relationship with  the “transcendent” or experiencing moments of deep connection, awe or magic - something that goes beyond traditional religious experiences, but can certainly encompass them. In a recent study, people described spirituality as aligning with a wide range of activities that they see as spiritual, including talking with God, connecting with animals or other people, working with art, engaging in physical activity, explore nature, reading, writing, among others. In my work as the Education Director at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, I think about this spiritual support through poetry in two ways 1) as a support for teachers and 2) as a support for students.  

1. Arts & Poetry as Tool to Support Teacher Spirituality 

“The arts are education. They stretch you as a human being, lift up the human spirit, and help us become better people.” - Pundy Yokouchi, Founding Chairman, Maui Arts & Cultural Center

The Teacher Professional Development workshops we lead have had to change drastically in the past few years. We have moved everything virtual and can no longer focus on the same ideas as we previously have. This past year, responding to teacher requests, we shortened our virtual meeting times and guided our workshops with the quote that started this section. We had artists, philosophers and educators like Chris Emdin lead experiences and discussions about how we can not only support our students, but most importantly, embody using the arts to “lift up the human spirit,” and see our teaching through inspired, purpose-driven lenses.  

2. Arts & Poetry as Tool to Support Student Spirituality  

“I await the day when I will be heard louder than the Akan drums of my motherland. A sound louder than the gun triggers that are pulled on us, a sound louder than the gunshots that are fired at us.

I await the day when I will be heard louder than my ancestor’s full lips. The same full African lips that once spoke kingdoms into existence. 

May my people will one day be heard. 

May I one day be free.” - Lua Bowman, Hawaiʻis First Youth Poet Laureate 

At this time in history, we see poetry being written and read more and more, especially by younger poets and poets of color - and it is an opportunity for teachers to incorporate in their classrooms to support spiritual experiences for their students. One program highlighting these fresh voices is the Youth Poet Laureate Program. There, and in Hawaiʻi’s first Youth Poet Laureate’s writing, we see these poets speaking not only to the future, or other young people like them, but also to the the past, in honoring the ancestors that sacrificed for their current lives, in ways one might say they are transcending our current realities, to dream the world anew.

3. “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” - Mary Oliver

In all, there are infinite ways we can support spiritual experiences for teachers and students. Using poetry is one way. It is my hope that you’ll be inspired to explore poetry in one new way after reading this.

An Invitation: Before moving on, I invite you to read the following poem. Take three, long breaths with it. (If you have more time, read it twice, and freewrite for 3 minutes without stopping.)

Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress-Toward (Among them Nora and Henry III)

Gwendolyn Brooks

Say to them,

say to the down-keepers,

the sun-slappers,

the self-soilers,

the harmony-hushers,

"Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night."

You will be right.

For that is the hard home-run.


Live not for battles won.

Live not for the-end-of-the-song.

Live in the along.