Juan Takes His Turn – JabberWalking with Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Takes His Turn – JabberWalking with Juan Felipe Herrera

 

He calls a poem a burble.

A writing pad is a paperbag, or a newspaper, periodico, or whatever you want it to be.

All that matters is that you hurry, hurry, hurry.

And write down whatever you see in the world.

What you hear,

what you taste,

What you love.

He says whatever you breathe, whatever word lifts its soft, wet

nose to the tendrils of your mind, it matters. Keep a penny notebook

like Walt Whitman who wrote as he walked America.

Like Juan Felipe Herrrera, 21st Poet Laureate of America
writes America.

I’m reading Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, JabberWalking, Candlewick, 2018, (ages 10 and up) and I have to stop every few pages and fall into a poem of my own imagination – it’s that kind of book. It’s half memoir: Juan Felipe gathering up his Chinese Pitbull Sharpei named Lotus along with memories of his Mama Lucha and his Papa Felipe who are “somewhere in my heart life” and us, you and me the reader (any age), to board a jet to D.C. with Juan Felipe to assume his poet laureateship of the country. The first Mexican-American, the first any Latino-American U.S. Poet Laureate.  The other half is a sort of creative spirit guide. We are racing and Juan Felipe reels us, the reader, into our own selves, as poets, creators of burbles!, washing any grinding homeworkness of writing out of us. He says…

….I think to free us, loosen us, take us some place where we’re a little lost.

He assures us, “The poem does not want to know where it is going or what it is saying.”

It could begin like this, he says:

“Scribble your burbles, your words of things – that you see and think and feel but it is really not thinking or even feeling. It is plain ole bonified, fuzzy, puffy blue-cheese, incandescent, brave  Jabber!”

Write in  any language! Maybe two. And from this generated jabber, circle words you like, you want to play with. And…

 

Between his cheering for our unharnessed imagination, Juan Felipe tells us stories, about his mother – “Let me tell you, I sang as loud as I could from every corner of that tiny apartment and outside in the alley. Now it’s your turn, Juan.”   And his father – “He put words on newspapers! He wanted to make sure he could stop time and space, write history in a split second, even though he never went to school like yours or mine.” (97)

He invites us to write our family stories and memories on newspapers, put our words on words.

I love Juan Felipe’s memoir-stories, entries in what he calls his Jabber Notebooks to give us ideas for our own. His last one begins:

Writing saved my life. What could a campesino boy raised on the way-outskirts of farm towns and cities of California do?  What could I do with so many incredible things – tadpoles, newborn colts, my Papa Felipe making miracles out of pieces of ancient wood, busted metal, scuffed leather, Mama always teaching me the alphabet from a broken book she bought for twenty-five cents at la segunda, the secondhand store—my dear traveling farm-working parents with long legs and strong hands. (127)

This is a spread from Calling the Doves, a memoir by Juan Felipe Herrrera, with illustrations by Elly Simmons, Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books

Writing saves lives.  It could save yours.

Cover of Juan Felipe’s memoir, Upside Down Boy, about his family settling in a town so that he could go to school for the first time.

Reading Ruby with New Americans

Ruby Nell Bridges at age 6, was the first African American child to attend William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans after Federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools.

One of the jobs I cherish doing is bringing NH Humanities’ book discussion programs to English Language Learners.I met with Christine Powers’ class of adult learners in Salem, New Hampshire this spring. They were all new Americans and also mothers. We met in the school where their kids go. Together we read a series of illustrated biographies including The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, the psychologist who wrote The Moral Life of Children.

I discovered Robert Coles’ The Moral Life of Children, years ago. For the book, he interviewed many children including Ruby Bridges, six years old. A New York Times reviewer explained Coles book like this, ”’No one teaches children sociology or psychology,” Dr. Coles remarks; ‘yet, children are constantly noticing who gets along with whom, and why.’ His tales are about what they have noticed, and how it affects them.” Ruby Bridges told Robert Coles about the mobs of people screaming hate at her as she crossed in front of them to go to school:

”They keep coming and saying the bad words, but my momma says they’ll get tired after a while and then they’ll stop coming. They’ll stay home.”

It was powerful reading about social justice issues in the U.S. with women from Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Latin American countries. They are all mothers and know the power of family words. I stayed only for a short time, but Chris and her students kept delving into the book and the questions it asks of us and what we say to our kids.

In this new language of English, each student wrote a cinquain poem.

Here’s one:

Ruby Bridges

Religious Brave

Reading Praying Talking

“I was praying for them.”

Love.

Thank you, Chris Powers and all the women in your class for our time together.

 

We Yearn: The Matchbox Diaries

 

matchboxdiariesI lead book club discussions with English language learners. Today I’m beginning to post images from books we read along with a taste of our discussions.

Italian emigrants, 1900,  say good-bye

to Grandmother who remains behind, and calling,

“You’ll eat the food there and forget your home.”*

It is not true, my students say.  They will not forget.

They say the grandmother is too old to  make the journey.

They say this has happened in their family, too.

And here they make the food.

 

*Bagramibatoulline.com The Matchbox Diaries by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick Press