Why We Write the Poems

Poets

Sarah, aged 13, and I, with the poet laureate of our city and all of us in the photo have been gathering on Tuesday nights to write together and be part of New Hampshire Humanities New Voices project. Sarah, her mom, and little brother are new Americans and bring their first language to the poems they’re writing in English. Sarah is a poet and and an artist. Here’s one of her anime drawings.

illustration by Sarah Cristina, grade 7

In the New Voices project, immigrant writers partner with local writers to write together and present together at a public reading. Thank you to teacher Carolyn Hutton who invited me to be the writer with her students. We’re gearing up to do our public reading. Here’s a poem I wrote about the magic that happened when we wrote together.

Why We Write the Poems

Because it stops raining and the dogwood tree finally

  relents and blooms,

Because it’s June and we can wear dresses off our shoulders

  and flip flops and our bodies can feel the sun,

Because, on the night Leidiane invites us over, the moon

  grows enormous and lights the expanse of the sea,

Because Tammi brings blooming azaleas and Carolyn brings

  miniature clipboards and pads she found at the Dollar Tree,

And because there are still people in the world singing love songs,

   we begin to write poems.

Because Pedro is two, his poems are giant circles on his Dollar Tree pad.

Because, combined, we speak Portuguese, English, Spanish, Music,

  Youth, Age and Indonesian coconut pancakes, we have

  immensity of imagination.

No one can stop writing the poems.

No one can stop remaking the world.

A Good, Good Year for Joseph and Whoosh in Joseph’s Big Ride

Ken Daley’s gorgeous illustration of Mama, Joseph, Whoosh with ALL her hair, and the bike in Joseph’s Big Ride.

“The narrative, which focuses on building a friendship, is paired with Daley’s vibrant illustrations, which depict just how fast the minds, and bikes, of young children can go…An ideal addition…”                      School Library Journal

This has been a good, good year for my characters, Joseph and Whoosh, in Joseph’s Big Ride.  Their bike – the one Joseph FINALLY gets to ride, his wish come true! – came to life in a school in Westbrook, Maine. Master’s of Education students at the  Maine College of Art made it happen with an Art Lesson they did with the students beginning with drawing lots of kids’ hands and the connected hands become the spokes of the bicycle’s wheels.  Like this….

Then like this…

Then all the children’s hands come together like this….

The children and these extraordinary art teachers put Joseph’s – really Whoosh’s (but she likes him) – bike all together like this…

You can see the steps to make the bike is this gallery of images and videos. The Art Lessons for Joseph’s Big Ride are created as part of a tool kit for a collection of children’s books called the,  Welcoming Library

Libraries and community centers can purchase the Welcoming Library of children’s books, mobile exhibit, and program resources to help new Americans and U.S.-born families in the neighborhood  meet each other through story.  See all the books and meet the creator, Kirsten Cappy, champion of books and children, at Welcoming Library.   

A Welcoming Library display in Maine.

 

 Joseph’s Big Ride also comes to Dads in correctional facilities to help parents connect with their kids through stories

I had to get this for my daughter. She’s got hair just like Whoosh.

Dad at Concord State Prison

The Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) gives brand-new children’s books to incarcerated parents in New Hampshire and Vermont prisons to support family literacy.  I’m one of the writers who visits schools and prisons to tell stories and talk about reading.  We imagine ways to read aloud to their kids which parents can do, depending on the facility, by Skype, phone call, or making a recording.  CLiF also gives children brand-new books in schools and community centers. I’ve brought Joseph’s joyful tale to many, many children in schools in immigrant neighborhoods. 

With students at Dr. Norman Crisp School, Nashua, New Hampshire 

Meet OD 

Finally, for this good, good year for Joseph and Whoosh,  South Sudanese rapper, OD Bonny and I  have teamed up to write a new story for Joseph called AII YEE, JOSEPH!  I first met OD when he wrote a tribute song, “A Girl from Juba”  for Viola,  the heroine of my novel in verse, THE GOOD BRAIDER.  I am very excited to work with this talented singer and storyteller who brings his music around the world to the Acholi people and all of us. 

OD Bonny, on the go

“Tell Me More”

“Tell Me More”

I have the great fortune to spend this year with New Hampshire Humanities. We’re working on a reading and writing project with  English learners.  The project is A Year of New Voices,  

In the Year of New Voices, professional writers meet English learners in Connections book discussion programs. Selected students will have an opportunity to work with the writer, read samples of each other’s work, look for ideas that each have as a thread through their writing. Then English learners, alongside professional writers, will read their poems, stories, and memoirs in “New Voices” readings in New Hampshire communities.

To support the writers,  we created a handbook, “Tell Me More” on Encouraging and Developing the Voices of English Learners.

The collage is by Linda Graham who allowed us to use her art on the cover and inside.  ESL educators and professional writers joined forces to write prompts, poems, and essays on the value of what bilingual writers bring to English.  The full handbook is available for English learners everywhere and their teachers.  You can download and printout. “Tell Me More” is here.