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John S. Blake

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About His Teaching

     John has been an amazing coach and mentor. He is a father to all of us when we really need someone to look up to. John has helped hundreds of people of all ages find their voices, including myself. He mentored me as a young teen and helped me through the toughest times in my life. As the first “out” lesbian in my family, it was a dark time. I didn't know it was going to be okay. John was there, and I knew I could always be myself with him. Without John's influence, I think I would’ve struggled against depression or much worse, like so many young LGBT teens today.

     John is a great teacher; he has always pushed my craft and never let me slack off. John is not one of those people that throws you away after you’re okay. Even from hundreds of miles away, John was there through the death of my mother. He is also still giving me advice through my adult life. John S. Blake is more than a mentor. He is one of my dearest friends.

     I recommend John to be in everyone’s life. He is loyal and dedicated. Everyone needs a little bit of John to help them through not only rough times, but the best of times.  I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor and, more importantly, a trustworthy man.

-Chanice "Nici" Cruz, Writer, Poet, NYC college student

     "As a teacher who has seen an entire school transformed by one man in just two weeks’ time--and in fact, less than that--I am so glad to sing the praises of this incredible talent after having had the great pleasure of working with Mr. Blake this past school year.

     I first encountered Mr. Blake when I attended a poetry workshop and slam at The Shop on 0 East 4th Street last fall; having attended several poetry slams at the Nuyorican during my time in New York City, I was curious about the poetry scene here in Richmond and the possibilities for my school’s students, particularly my Dead Poets Society, a group of students passionately devoted to poetry and the power of carefully chosen words in general. The workshop held prior to the slam amazed me as a place of emotional safety and vulnerability unlike anything I had seen, and after I watched the slam, I met Mr. Blake and shared my excitement over what I had just witnessed, at which time he spoke of his availability for and experience with teaching classes. We were able to get funding for his visit, he provided a plan that would cover English SOLs for all grades, from ninth through twelfth grade, and my team of English teachers cleared their schedules for him to present his gifts to us. We were ready to proceed with two weeks of introduction to what poetry in the present day meant. 

     I write that we were ready. How can one be ready to be struck by lightning? Nothing could have prepared us for what Mr. Blake did to and for our students in those two weeks during National Poetry Month 2013. He introduced our students to several outstanding and outstandingly diverse modern slam poets via impactful film clips that were illustrative of modern poetry’s ethos and language while still respecting our school’s culture. Having done this, he spoke to them from the heart about what poetry really means, its soul cleansing effect and a place for the creation of that safety and vulnerability I had witnessed at the workshop and slam, as had my Dead Poets Society, which in March made a special evening field trip to partake in these workshop and reading activities. Students then wrote and shared with the class. 

     Hemingway once stated, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” In those moments, our students did just that, the only difference being that it was by hand. Pain poured out across the pages of their notebooks and out of their mouths as they stood at the front of the class trembling. Truths about themselves came spilling forth as their peers began to see the facets of their personalities and perceptions of themselves, their families, and their lives become startlingly clear. Our guidance counselors even noted that what he was engaging in was much like their own work, and that he had an incredible sense of just where and how far to push them, for his intrapersonal skills were as finely honed as his aesthetic sense. There was some worry that sensitive material that was shared might become fodder for rumors and bullying. That never happened. It never happened because Mr. Blake instantly created a space that was safe. There was the definite sense that violating that space would be violating a relationship they immediately treasured with Mr. Blake. Because he was so unflinchingly honest with them, he held all of their respect, so the reciprocation was complete. As one of my students phrased it, “the air in the halls at school was different, and everyone could feel it.” Various administrators, guidance counselors, and other teachers visited classrooms he was teaching in. They repeatedly and unfailingly marveled at Mr. Blake’s gifts and genuine care for young people. A young man who was not even a student at our school heard of him and came just to meet him. A consummate professional who left a positive lasting impression on our students, Mr. Blake has long maintained that poetry saved his life. Poetry as presented to the students at Goochland High School by Mr. Blake saved many, many lives."

Emily Holloway-Costa, Head of English Department, Goochland High School (Goochland, VA)

John S. Blake was born to write, perform, and teach poetry. I feel fortunate to have gained my first understanding of the spoken word world through meeting him and having participated in workshops, open mics, and slams led by him since 2010. His enthusiasm for poetry and his ability to challenge writers to grow deeper and more confident in their gift are infectious and magic. He is the kind of teacher that makes students ask, "Are we talking about poetry or real life?" The answer will always be "YES" because when John talks poetry, he talks real life. He talks "how do we become better people" and "how do we make this a better world." John's transparency regarding his life's hardships and mistakes offer hope to all who might be struggling with drug addiction, a history of incarceration, painful family backgrounds, navigating masculinity in a culture that bolsters rape, or their own imperfections. Through his poetry and his teaching, John breaks the silence that holds our culture in the bondage of repeating itself.

Camisha Jones -  Split This Rock Managing DirectorClick here to edit text

     "It was my pleasure to have John S. Blake as a quest lecturer in my classroom at the Central New Mexico Community College. I was teaching a poetry unit in a second level composition class. My students generally are an eclectic mix of ages and ethnicities, attitudes and skill levels. John captured their attention instantly and for the entire time period. He not only demonstrated his skill as a writer, but also showed a natural affinity for the needs of a student. He used clear instruction, charts and exercises both written and oral, and evoked not only poems from the students but also a willingness to share questions and responses. I’d say he is a natural teacher who works very well with a class.

The day following his visit the students asked about him, said they really enjoyed his lesson and the original poetry he shared with them. They asked if he could return.

     I highly recommend John S. Blake for a position in facilitating and instructing in writing workshops. He frees the poetry and self-expression in the students he works with no matter their ages or situations. His people skills, along with his amazing accomplishments as a poet, ought to be utilized.

John would be an asset in any program."

-Merimee Moffitt, English Instructor, CNMCC

" John S. Blake is a merciless teacher. He ensures that his students cannot hide behind their own words, effectively turning poetry from shield to sword. He encourages students to look deeper into themselves. John turns rookies into rockstars."

-Emily Bjustrom, UNM Student, Poet. (Albuquerque, NM)

    " John Blake is one of the most gifted arts educators I have worked with as he demonstrates the ability to connect to youth on their level while not dumbing down or compromising the material being taught.

He has taught multiple workshops and residencies at the middle, high school, and college levels through our organization, and the results have been phenomenal. As a published poet and a very accomplished spoken word artist, he also brings to the table the rare knowledge and experience in both the literary and performing arts branches of the genre. John dispels the long-held claim that those who cannot do, teach. His presence as one of the premier performance poets in the country allows him to capture the attention and interest of participants and then harness their own creative potential in his writing and performance workshops.

"John’s true passion for literature is contagious. As a fellow performance poet and educator, I am absolutely certain that any group of youth or adults that has the opportunity to work with John will leave feeling moved, inspired, and energized by a passion for poetry they may not have even known they had. Every year, we have returning students in our programs that specifically ask if and when John Blake will be coming back to work with us, and this enthusiasm among young writers speaks for itself. With his abilities to connect, instruct, and inspire John Blake is the ideal candidate for any organization dedicated to arts education."

-Kane Smego, Program Director for Creative Writing after-school programs (Durham NC.)

Performance spilled onto the page with the street-psychology and language the heart speaks.

You could spend time elsewhere, but John S. Blake's poetry will hold your hours hostage with rough aubade, vivid chess moves, and the answering machine you don't want. You won't be sorry.” 

-Joan Logghe, Santa Fe Poet Laureate 2012-