By Lolie Mahe
City College’s Poetry for the People course has found its spotlight in the bustling city of San Francisco encouraging residents to enroll and begin writing poetry.
Amanda Barrows, a student of Poetry for the People, placed a nightstand in parks of San Francisco intended for bringing poetry to the community in a creative way, as mentioned by Sydney Page of the Washington Post.
The nightstand consists of a drawer full of poems on one side and blank pieces of paper and pens on the other, with the written instructions, “Take a poem, leave a poem.”
The Poetry for the People course is available under the Interdisciplinary Studies Department at City College because of Lauren Muller, treasured Poetry for the People instructor and IDST chair of department who CCSF lost to cancer this past month.
The idea of Poetry for the People came from one of Muller’s best friends, Leslie Simon, who in 1974 drew inspiration after visiting Mexico and seeing “Art for the People.” Simon wrote an article and decided to deliver “Poetry for the People” to Bay Area colleges, “But we didn’t get enough people for the class. We needed like 25 people, maybe 15 or something like that.”, said Simon. Glenn Nance, who is the chair of African American Studies, wound up with the article on his desk which he liked a lot and he and some students pushed it through; as Nance was on the curriculum committee.
“So we offered two sections one day and one night, long story short, we got 28 people, we got plenty of people, and it was a great success.”
However, City College had only offered the course from 1975 to 1984. It was not until 15 years later that the IDST department chair at the time, Abdul Jabbar, asked Simon about Poetry for the People, as UC Berkeley began offering the same course meaning CCSF would be able to offer UC/CSU transferable credits with Poetry for the People.
Simon was employed in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department while doing part-time in English until she went on to become full-time in Women’s Gender Studies as chair.
Muller and Simon first connected in the Spring of 1990 at the English department of UC Berkeley where they became friends. Because of Simon’s workload as chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies, Simon asked Muller to teach one class of Poetry for the People.
“ She joked about it because she said, ‘Beware of Leslie Simon. She’ll say, you just have to teach us one class… And the next thing, you’re living at City College.’
Muller began teaching in 2000 before becoming the department chair in 2002. “Over 20 years, she chaired the department, and she grew it.”
The IDST department of City College offers, African American Studies, Latin American Studies, Asian American Studies, Labor Studies courses on racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, ageism, design, trauma prevention and recovery, Pacific Islands and Oceania Studies, Middle East Studies, all very committed to civic engagement.”
Simon mentions how there is a whole series of diversity in the IDST department, with a number of certificates available, “which Lauren was very instrumental in getting launched.” “In the ethics, science, and social justice classes, we have a lot of community oriented classes. For example, in Women’s and Gender Studies, I founded Project Survive It’s a sexual violence prevention program where students get trained to help end sexual violence.”
“These are all housed in Interdisciplinary Studies to kind of incubate programs that are not big enough to be their own department yet; it’s kind of an incubator, innovator.”
Poetry for the People of City College can be found on Instagram @ccsf_p4p.