A young 20-something man goes into a local high school. He has been hired to do a residency with students on performance poetry and writing. He’ll be at the school for three weeks working with a group of students. He has been contracted through a local arts organization to do this work and has had minimal training, but is highly experienced in the art of spoken word.
He is an engaging performer and has a fierce magnetism on stage, as most performers do. He has learned how to pull the crowd in and leave them hanging on his every word. Of course, the students are attracted to his talent and charisma, and he easily transforms a class of students who was not interested in poetry into a group of students who are now intrigued and excited about the possibility of their own voices.
As the residency continues, he builds trust and develops a friendly relationship with the students in the class as well as the teacher. The young men in the class identify with him because he is close to their age but has some experience under his belt, and the young women in the class identify with him for the same reasons. The teacher is just happy because he has gotten the students excited about writing and performing.
Into the second week, he approaches one of the female students and asks her for her number. He doesn’t hide what he’s doing from the rest of the class. She gives it to him, not thinking much of it because he works with a group of poets and is always looking for new poets to add to the roster. She assumes that he is interested in her poetry.
But the truth is, he’s not primarily interested in her poetry. He’s interested in her. He has failed to set professional boundaries for himself and has become caught up in attraction. He begins to see her outside of the regular school day under the guise of mentoring her. She is a bit naïve and doesn’t really know what his true intentions are. She is in awe of his talent and feels special because he has taken special interest in her.
When the residency is over they remain friends and he continues the manipulation. He tries to artistically mold her into a female version of himself; at the same time he tries to form a physical relationship with the 16 year old. He tells her things to keep her close and he pits her against other poets. This is the type of thing that abusers do when they are trying to keep control. It’s not physical abuse, but it is clearly psychological abuse.
This is just a fictional scenario, but in reality I have had numerous students and school staff tell me about poets coming in to classes and after school programs and starting inappropriate romantic relationships with students. At one particular school this lead to the poet involved never being asked back, when in all reality it could have lead to something much worse. I have heard about this happening a lot. It doesn’t seem to be as rare as you might think.
If I had children and found out about these predators coming into the schools I would go ballistic. People who are going into schools have to have a sense of ethical behavior and integrity and understand what it means to be in their positions. You can’t just send a poet into schools and assume everything is going to be great. I have heard enough stories about the seduction and manipulation of young poets. Our youth are being put at risk, and I think it is necessary to speak up.