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Early in my first year of teaching high school, I was surprised to learn that many of my students, mostly white 11th graders from affluent families, had never stepped foot on a streetcar even though New Orleans was barely a 20-minute drive from campus. Realizing this was indicative of a vast cultural divide, I decided we would hit the streets. The result was the creation of generative, community-minded writing prompts accessible to anyone at any age, an interactive rotating menu of sorts that I called Mouth Fools. To put the practice into action I contacted a friend who taught at a nearby public school to ask if he would be willing to host my students for a creative community project. Less than 15 miles down the road, the school was a world away for my students. After two hours of interaction, however, in was clear that, through their immersive experience, they had learned a lesson in empathy. They had joined a group that was “other” and saw individuals as clearly as they saw themselves. Soon after, we literally took to the streets by entering New Orleans neighborhoods with which my students were unfamiliar and invited passersby to participate in the generative exercises Mouth Fools provided. My students were able to consider multiple viewpoints and to reflexively challenge their own beliefs and practices. They not only critiqued normative, hegemonic forces that shaped their daily lives, but created products that spoke back to those forces. Since its inception, I have reshaped Mouth Fools to meet the needs of my respective students and their representative communities. I would like to bring its current iteration to the 2023 New Orleans Poetry Festival to help poets learn simple, generative practices and to help teachers introduce similar approaches in their classrooms.


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