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Censored Works Reinstated in School Magazine : Students Appeal to Poetic Justice

June 22, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MANHATTAN BEACH — Two student poems on drug addiction and a broken love affair achieved unexpected prominence last week when trustees of the South Bay Union High School District overruled a principal's decision to ban them from a campus publication.

The board, after hearing opposing arguments on the students' First Amendment rights and the duty of school authorities to maintain standards of good taste, ordered an unexpurgated edition of the publication produced for the study body at Mira Costa High School.

About 200 copies of Reflections, a selection of prose and poems written by students in a creative writing class, were made available on the campus after graduation ceremonies Thursday night.

The poems by seniors Ted Alexandre and Lara Uskovich had made it in an early version of the magazine, along with about 70 other works. But after reviewing the two poems on the printed page, Principal Gary Hartzell and English teacher Geraldine Wadhams concluded that the "sexual connotations" and "sacrilegious nature" of the pieces made them unsuitable for younger students who might read them.

Ruling Appealed

Those copies were withdrawn and a second version, without the two poems, was distributed on the campus at $2.50 a copy.

Alexandre, who wrote the poem on what he said was a woman's struggles with heroin addiction, joined several other contributors to the magazine in asking the school board to let readers judge the poetic merits of the banned works.

After failing to get the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, Alexandre said, the students succeeded in getting Los Angeles attorney Richard Wentz to take on their case as a public service project.

Wentz persuaded the school board that suppressing the poetry might be a violation of the California Education Code and constitutional guarantees of free speech.

He acknowledged that school authorities can censor material found to be obscene, libelous or slanderous but contended that nothing in the banned poems fit that definition. The poems also were unlikely to stir up trouble or provoke unlawful behavior on the campus, he said.


"Indeed, it is difficult to see how these two poems would incite students at all," he said.

Alexandre said he also could not see what all the fuss was about. "The poem is about a woman's addiction to heroin and how that has taken the place of love and religion in her life," he said. "It seems that some people misinterpreted it to mean that the person was having a sexual relationship with God."

The "inexperienced reader" might also get a pro-drug message from the poem, Alexandre said, but actually he wanted to warn other young people against getting involved in drugs. He said he got the idea for the poem from a Rolling Stone magazine article several years ago about drug addicts in New York.

The poem, titled "Silence, Exile and Cunning," is Alexandre's first and perhaps last published work. He plans to enter the University of California, Santa Cruz, this fall to study international relations and business.

Uskovich, author of the second poem, said one line in her untitled work--"And she wraps her strong legs around his waist tighter and tighter until he can't breathe"--may have evoked sexual images in the minds of some readers.

A 'Deep' Message

"But I didn't intend that," she said. "It's really a figurative way of saying that the other woman is using head games to get a tighter hold on the first woman's boyfriend.

"My message--and it's a deep one--is that no one is worth playing games over. You have to find someone you can be true to while being true to yourself."

Uskovich said she wanted to share her poetic observations, which she said were based on personal experience, with her classmates. But, like Alexandre, she does not see a writing career in her future. She said she plans to major in theater arts and psychology at Loyola Marymount University.

Supt. Walter Hale, who defended Hartzell's decision to censor the poems, said the controversy may have been a good learning experience for the students. "They took their case through the system and won," he said. "They found that democracy can work for them, too."


Little Mary, quite ordinary

spent her days

on a railway car

spent her nights

with Jesus Christ

said he'd cure her ills

in a painless way

no one ever listened to her say

"the chain and the sword

and the power of the lord

make my life complete

in a way you'll never know!"

she got down on her knees and prayed.

the girl did resurrect

a god she could inject

and love she couldn't have

in any other way.

"you can never see

the love I give to me

when I extract the Holy Spirit

from a twenty-dollar bill!"

the girl lay down and shook

she knew how long it took

for the evils of her life

to be completely washed away.

she thought it sort of sad

because it made her "bad"

but love she couldn't have

in any other way



Yeah, and when he looks at her

I can see those big eyes

remembering their memories.

And she returns the stare with

all those female things she can

do to make him want her again

I wonder why I hang around.

I pull and tug and hold my

own weight as much as I can,

And I try to get a little more

of him than she has.

But then those great, big claws

of hers,

Dive into his skin, and poison

his blood.

And she wraps her strong legs

around his waist tighter

and tighter until he can't


I know now that in his eye

I'm just a blur.

And she has once again

become his 20/20 vision.


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