Ama Codjoe: In the Life

For the month of May, social justice activist and Pushcart-nominated poet Ama Codjoe blogs about the P&W–supported workshop series she facilitates at Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (G.E.M.S.), an organization that provides opportunites for girls and young women who have been sexually exploited, and about participating in a P&Wsupported Cave Canem regional workshop in 2009.

G.E.M.S. is a New York City based organization whose mission is to support young women from the ages of 12–24 who have been commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked. Young women who receive support from G.E.M.S. often describe themselves as being “in the life."

For five weeks in the fall of 2011, young women from G.E.M.S. showed up to write in community. We gathered around a table, asking unanswerable questions and drafting poems that were received with admiration, thoughtful critique, and applause. In my work as an educator, a student has never failed me. When it comes to poetry and writing, young people always have something to share—it is my job to provide a way for students to enter into a poem.

One entryway, Candy Chang's public art project “Before I Die,” urged us to develop lists of what we wanted to do or say before we died. We took our lists and turned them into poems that confided in our mothers, spoke to our children, cursed out good-for-nothings, and professed genuine love. We always filled the page. There was never enough time to write.

Through carefully crafted poems, young women from G.E.M.S. revised the phrase “in the life” to mean “in the life of our poetry,” “in the life of our innermost world,” and “in the life of our power.”

Photo: Ama Codjoe. Credit: Matthew Goldberg.

Support for
Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.