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Guerrilla Poetry: Connecting Our School Community Through Art

By: Dante De Jong

Lately, the writing’s been on the wall at Belmont High School— but it’s no bad omen! The poems you see decorating windows school-wide are part of the Creative Writing class’s “Guerrilla Poetry” project, which made its debut this fall. Intending to brighten the building (and your day) with a couple lines of verse, students in this elective volunteer their very own poems each month to adorn a corner of the building with. In festive colors and creative formats, each poem shines in its very own place of honor.

Guerrilla poetry is the art of writing poetry in unexpected ways and places to share with one’s community. Often, guerrilla poets use unconventional materials and mediums (for this project, students use erasable markers in colors of their choice on designated glass windows and panels). It is innovative, original, refreshing— and precisely what the school needs, according to the teacher who came up with it. Ms. Santiago, who teaches Creative Writing, tells me she was inspired by the guerrilla art of Banksy, an enigmatic British street artist, and Keith Haring, a graffiti artist who drew art on empty billboards along the New York City subway. “We have so many public spaces here at the high school that were devoid of student voices,” she writes in an email. Like Haring’s subway billboards and Banksy’s urban walls, this guerrilla poetry will give them a little more “soul.”

Ms. Santiago’s idea has come to fruition, and what inspired her is now inspiring people all over Belmont High School. Students and staff alike linger in front of the poems, reading lines of poetry in between classes. “Tales both old and new // Songs tall and true” reads one poem in vibrant magenta outside the second-floor silent study area. A freshman grins as they study it. Another guerrilla poem in black ink by the main entrance celebrates the youthful air of our town in late summer, and couplets in light green and scarlet make the first floor B Wing festive with a lively rhyme scheme. A group of juniors discusses the latter’s meaning. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” quips yet another poem in the fourth floor A Wing, referencing Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “If the story ends in tragedy // at least there’s a blank slate on which to write it.” An English teacher squints at the stanzas as sunlight from behind illuminates the red letters.

Students in the halls had many thoughts on the project, which they were happy to share.

“The guerrilla poetry is very interesting. If I had more time, I would actually read it.” — E.D.

“I was just talking to my friend about a poem I read near the main entrance! It really resonated with both of us.” — A.S.

“The ones I saw are very creative. They really liven up the school.” — K.M.

“I think the concept is really cool. Since they’re written on windows, you can read the words and see sunlight shining through at the same time.” — G.F.

“I liked a poem called ‘fading flag’ that was up last month—it gave voice to a student experience I feel is never really spoken about in school.” — T.T.

“I think having poems where students can talk about whatever topic they want is a great way to diversify the school community.” — L.H.

The poems bring joy to both those who read them and those who wrote them. Eda Galvez, a creative writing student participating in the project, tells me “It feels interesting [to publish a poem]. I'm personally someone who likes sharing my work, so I don't mind it. I know that some students probably think poetry on walls is ‘cringe’ or don't admire it, but for those who did read the poems and find them interesting or relatable, I'm glad.”

For others in the class, putting their poem up for all to see carried no little amount of trepidation, but ended up being “a really enriching and worthwhile experience.” Indeed, as another student named Lisha says, “I chose to participate in the guerrilla poetry project because I love poetry, both making it and writing it, and I loved the idea of having it around the school.” The choice has certainly paid off! When it’s time to put up each month’s new set of poems, the people of B Block Honors Creative Writing brim with enthusiasm despite the morning’s early hour.

It is not only creative writing students who may experience the joy of sharing their art, however! If you’re interested in submitting your poem to the guerrilla poetry project, email with your poem attached. Additionally, a QR code next to each poem provides more information on the project and how to submit.

“I would totally recommend others to submit their poetry to the guerrilla poetry project! If you choose, it can be completely anonymous but also a good way to share your work,” says Eda Galvez with enthusiasm. All aspiring writers are encouraged to send in their best work, regardless of perceived “quality.” Art is art, and holds value for each of us in different ways— do not hold yourself back for fear your work won’t measure up! “With this project, I hope students will feel empowered and confident about their art as they share it with the school community,” writes Ms. Santiago. “Poetry is meant to be published— to an audience far beyond a single teacher in a single class.”

Poetry is meant to be published— and when the draft on the page becomes a gift to the world, it’s all the better if the world is listening. So, next time you walk by one of the guerrilla poems, consider slowing down in your hasty stride to E Block. Pause for a moment and contemplate the words on the window… and if you can, read the whole thing through, because one of your classmates poured their heart into every marker stroke! Perhaps they even see you, a stranger, standing there reading their work, and smile as they wonder what you think of it. After all, writing is not a one-sided effort; it is a two-way connection between the poet and the reader. “Ultimately, art helps us feel less alone in this world,” Ms. Santiago emphasizes at the conclusion of our interview. It binds our school community together— the very core of the guerrilla poetry project.

Image courtesy of Dante De Jong.


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