If you order a pizza on Friday, there might be something special on the box.
Those stanzas and couplets have made a long journey from the creative mind of a young poet before being read by professional poets, educators and interns, attached to something delicious and delivered to your door.
It’s for a good cause: Pizza Poetry Day and the programs of Big Class, an innovative writing program dedicated to making the voices of New Orleans students ages 6-18 heard.
Those voices come through loud and clear in the innovative, funny, smart and imaginative poems that will add a little spice to your pizza on Friday. After Pizza Poetry Day, the poems will be collected and published in an anthology.
Pizza Poetry, in its fourth year, is a beloved Big Class tradition. Throughout the year, there are workshops in area schools, outreach to teachers and the process of evaluating the submissions — more than 500 this year — from area students.
On a recent spring afternoon, Big Class interns and staff gathered to choose the "pizza poet laureates" for 2017 at Big Class headquarters on Louisa Street in the Bywater, where they share temporary quarters with the New Orleans Video Access Center.
“I wrote your name on a pizza box and could not throw it away,” read Christiann Cannon from her favorite, "Pizza Love" by Ha’Sohn Gordan, an eighth-grader at ARISE Academy. “I’m going to remember that line forever.”
“Where were the boys like that when I was in eighth grade?” asks Kyley Pulphus, program director, with a smile.
Anyx Burd advocates for “Ode to My Love,” by Maya Morgan, another eighth-grader at ARISE. “I like it because it shows there’s still love in the world; there’s still hope in the world,” she said.
“I don’t think boys get enough credit for having feelings,” Christiann said.
“’Ode to My Love’ is just like me,” Anyx said. “It’s the kind of person I am. I just keep pushing. I don’t give up.”
Getting ready for Pizza Poetry Day is only one of the many projects of Big Class. The next big priority is partnering with 826 National, a nationwide network of creative writing and tutoring centers founded by Dave Eggers in 2002.
Big Class will open a writing center in the 7th Ward this summer, and just as with all the 826 centers, it will have a specialty retail outlet — the New Orleans Haunting Supply Co.
Big Class has some strong community partners in this effort. G's Pizza is one of them. Manager Ricky Ricard Jr. sees the event as a win-win.
"When they first brought the idea to me, my first thought was, 'Why isn't this better known?' " he said. "There's no down side. There's never a down side to supporting literacy. We actually have kids from the neighborhood come to see if their poems are on the boxes. I've had customers call and say, 'Who wrote this poem?' There's definitely been an increase in reputation over the years."
Members of the staff choose their favorites, too, and try to get them on as many boxes as possible. Ricard reads them, too.
"One of those poems was so sad, and I thought, 'How does an 11-year-old know all this?' " he said.
And of course, it does add to the work flow, with that extra step of making sure all the boxes that go out the door have a poem attached.
"So there's a bit of a change of pace," Ricard said. "But we love what they're doing."
Back at the judging tables, the interns need to narrow down middle schoolers' poems to be attached to pizza boxes, but it’s a hopeless tie after 45 minutes of relentless, passionate, informed debate.
Shanelle Mills, one of the adult writers in residence, offers some guidance.
“How I found my voice was by finding stories only I could tell,” she said. “I’d encourage you to look at these poems and see if you can see the person writing. Which one has the strongest personality shining through? That is my challenge to you.”
The poems in the other age groups are easier to choose, and the subjects of the winners range widely.
"Help the Fight" by Caroline Albano, a second-grader at Edwards Hynes Charter School, conjures an amazing vision of dragons. “I can’t believe a second-grader wrote this,” Christiann said.
"A Shout-Out from the Concerned" by Jasmine Sneed, sophomore at Sci High, takes aim at stereotyped notions of African-American family life.
“Love the shout-out poems,” poet-in-residence Mills said.
"Why do Stars Shine so bright?" by Teren Smothers, a fifth-grader at Audubon Charter School, creates a personal universe that is unforgettable.
The four teen interns — besides Christiann and Anyx, there are Nia Gates and Chasity Hunter — all have writing credits, and not only in Big Class.
Christiann and Anyx have both written for the national food zine Put an Egg on It. Nia, who’s planning on a career in social justice, and spoken word artist Chasity both know writing will always be a part of their lives.
The adults don’t offer easy answers and Christiann and Anyx stand their ground. Then Nia and Chasity arrive and for a brief, breathtaking moment, the competition remains a tie, before “Pizza Love” carries the day.
Smiles all around. “We have the best jobs in the world,” executive director Doug Keller said.
Celebrations of poetry abound in New Orleans this month, with a special emphasis on poetry by and for young people.
NEW ORLEANS YOUTH POETRY FESTIVAL: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Rat in Lavin-Bernick Center, Tulane University. A youth open mic will feature Sunni Patterson and Pages Matam. noyouthpoetry.org.
YOUTH SLAM AND MIXER: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd, New Orleans.
POETRY WORKSHOPS AND CELEBRATION: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Main Library, 219 Loyola Ave.
NEW ORLEANS POETRY FESTIVAL AND SMALL PRESS BOOK FAIR 2017: Thursday through Sunday, New Orleans Healing Center, 2372 St. Claude. nolapoetry.com.
Thursday — Opening party, Poets with Bands, 7 p.m., Café Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans.
Friday — Readings, panels and open mic session at NOHC. Evening performance, 7 p.m. at Café Istanbul.
Saturday — Readings, panels and open mic session at NOHC. Evening performance, 7 p.m. at Café Istanbul.
Sunday — Grand finale open mic, 3 p.m., Maple Leaf Bar, 8316 Oak St., New Orleans.