Saturday, April 23, 2016

You Don’t Get To Know Us Here: an Abcedarius of Loneliness in America

Angles everywhere, our pictures
burst into smirking. You have to give
credit to the walls, so ivory, so
dull they bore the next door neighbor’s
even thatch of lawn, while yours yawns
fists of weeds. So much is disguised, a
guise of “fine” and “great” and “ok” in your
hello, and you know yours isn’t the only house
iced with doors that look like slammed exits.
Just have a look at all the fences, keen in their
keep aways, keep backs, keep outs, keeping
love at length, love that spills its foreign
mortar shells at low and consistent velocities.
Niceties make it hard to visit, we can’t be
open, look each other in the eyes. Are we
protecting the holes already blasted into our chests, their
quarries of guns and valentines? There is that poem by
Rukeyser that lives inside you, and anytime you
stand in a crowded superstore you want to
take a stranger’s hand in yours, link the
unforgiving seconds of your life to theirs, add
value among the shelves bricked against us all
with fat free crackers and ziplocks of terror,
x-treme white breads that make us dizzy and forgetful.
You don’t get to know us here, standing in our lines at the
zero hour, riddled by our unfilled and overflowing baskets.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Building Up and Celebrating the Self through Visual Poetry and Creative Movement

It can be difficult to be open, to let yourself be vulnerable and at risk. Ready to fail. Open to criticism. Especially when you're young, and learning who you are, but it's even difficult as we age and are subjected to the droning messages of perfection. But when you are vulnerable, you are also open to moments of beauty. Moments of connection.

I've had two day-long sessions recently with students where we had the time to explore creative movement, writing, and our unique selves, both fragile and strong.

The second group, toward the end of the week, was with non-public middle school students. I introduced myself and the session, and let them know that we'd be writing some individual self-portraits. We'd also write countless group portraits by creating a kinetic poetry sculpture.

First we created anagrams from the letters in our names. I asked everyone to choose their favorite word from their name and then invited them to join me in a large circle in the back of the room. Each student created a movement to go with their name and word. As each person said their name and word and made their accompanying movement, it was repeated by the group, and then the next student took their turn, until we made it all the way around the circle. This never fails to illicit laughter, and is a great way to recall names.
We answered a series of open-ended questions, each student working on his or her own, and then we grouped up to discuss and report out some of the ideas and thoughts that were shared.

We read a self-portrait poem written by an 8th grade student, titled "The Strange Kid with the Red Face," and discussed the mood and tone of the poem, as well as all the different points of view the author used. 
We looked at some examples from the "This I Be" project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield, which explores the ideas of insecurity, vulnerability, and confidence.

We discussed some of our own insecurities, and then I modeled the trust fall with a friend who was in to audit my session. A couple of volunteers came up to give it a try. 

Whew! It's a little scary, letting yourself fall into a new friend's arms. Makes you feel open. A little vulnerable.

We wrote some of  our own "I am" and "I am not" statements, then shared them. I asked students to write an insecurity and a confidence on each hand. My insecurity is that I am clumsy. My confidence is that I am an encourager. My eyeliner pencils got a lot of sharpening this day, as everyone wrote and re-wrote, and shared.

There was a brief break in here to learn a circus (and life) skill -- balance! In particular, the balancing of feathers. We circled up, and everyone got a peacock feather and some instruction on keeping it balanced on the palm of the hand, the back of the hand, the chin -- there were a few who got their feathers to balance on their foreheads, too.

Credos, statements of belief, and creating metaphors and similes were our next bit of writing. We kept adding to our freewriting so we'd have enough content to work with when the time came for crafting a poem.

After reading another example of a self-portrait poem, we got to work writing our own, choosing the point of view, and spreading out all of our writing from the day -- the anagrams from our names, answers to the questions, I am/I am not statements, credos, and comparisons.

When the first drafts were done, we broke for lunch. Afterwards, we edited a bit, chose a few lines we wanted to use for the text transfer, and then we read a few poems out loud.

I showed the text transfer technique, and a few options for adding color to the blocks. Everyone set to work doing the typesetting of their phrases, adding layers of color to the blocks, and transferring their phrases to the blocks.

We gathered at the end of our session to arrange our blocks into different structures, and read what text appeared each time we rearranged. I asked everyone what they noticed about it.  

"It's a poem no matter where you read."