Thanks, New Hampshire Humanities

My colleague and friend Morgan Wilson, NH Humanities Marketing and Communications Specialist, took this photo of me in Concord, NH. Morgan traveled with me to nearly all the New Voices readings featuring refugee and immigrant writers. And my friend and colleague Becky Kinhan, Director of Communications, wrote this about my work to create The Year of New Voices. Thank you, Becky!

“Sometimes ‘tell me more’ are the most generous words you can tell somebody.” 

https://www.nhhumanities.org/news/new-hampshire-humanities-bids-farewell-terry-farish

“You could say Terry Farish is a story whisperer.

For Farish, a writer, poet, and author, life is about words and storytelling.  But perhaps one of her greatest gifts is the ability to gently coax and nurture words and images from those who don’t know how to tell their story– or believe that their story even matters.

This fall, Terry leaves her post as our Connections book discussion coordinator to devote herself to her writing life and other projects. The ripple effects of her time here are profound. 

From 2008-2013 Terry led the Connections book discussion program, working with Adult Basic Education and English language learner classes. Using children’s and adult books, New Hampshire Humanities facilitators enhanced literacy classes using writing, drama, cooking, art, music, and more to explore surprisingly sophisticated themes.

Across the state, Terry’s leadership and vision are admired by many, including Linda Graham, Connections facilitator and visual artist: “Terry helps make each session resonate, like the artist she is. She leads with deep determination and initiative but thoughtful appreciation for the individual skills of a facilitator,” said Graham. “Her focus stays on the importance of literature, art in our lives. I have benefited from my work with her as she values each program she works with and is generous with her support.” 

After a four-year hiatus, Terry returned to New Hampshire Humanities in 2017 and while continuing to lead Connections, imagined a new trajectory for the program.

“When I came here originally, it was purely for the love of reading,” she says. “I just wanted to bring the stories to people. Since then, I’ve learned so much from teachers, facilitators, and the students. It has become much more about building community.”

She conceived of “A Year of New Voices,” an initiative that encompassed new ways of working with English learners. Gathering a team of ESL teachers, facilitators, artists, and writers, she created a handbook of essays called Tell Me More: Encouraging and Developing the Voices of English Learners. Published by New Hampshire Humanities last year, the guide is a resource for teachers that includes tips for helping students discover their stories and write with clarity.

A more community-oriented component, New Voices, was a program in which ELL students and local writers worked together and presented their poems and stories at public readings. “The idea I was imagining for New Voices,” she explained, “was small, casual readings in local venues where U.S. born people might also come to listen and read.” 

New Voices invited new Americans to write, read, and hear reactions to stories. Writing gave refugees the chance to heal from unspeakable horrors and immigrants a way to adjust to a new home and a new language. They spoke of food, art, music, dance. About grandmothers, growing up, violence and death, and saying goodbye. An immigrant from China who participated in the Lebanon New Voices event marveled, “No one ever asked me to tell my story before.”

New Voices brought together new writers/storytellers with enthusiastic audiences this year at free public events in Manchester, Portsmouth, Lebanon, Keene, and Concord. Marianne Philbrick, Adult Education Director at Concord’s Second Start, shared: “Students, families, staff, and volunteers were thrilled to attend the New Voices poetry reading at Gibson’s Bookstore this spring. Audience members had a chance to realize the immigrant experience and they laughed and cried, both at the emotion and fun of the presentation.”

Farish believes the program’s success is because storytelling breaks down barriers and allows us to build empathy and understanding. “When you begin to write, you’re going places in your imagination you’ve never gone before,” she says. “Reading others’ stories provides a safe space for people to meet one another, to cross into unfamiliar territory.” 

We thank you, Terry, for living the work of New Hampshire Humanities in the deepest, most joyous sense of the word. 

Immensity – Reading with Immigrant Writers

I’ve been working with the talented staff of New Hampshire Humanities to create the New Voices project. We were matchmakers. We matched many New Hampshire poets with immigrant writers to work together with the goal of creating a community reading. Here’s one story.

Writing united us.  But could we actually pull off a reading? Yes, with help from some poets before us.

Back row: Tammi Truax, Portsmouth Poet Laureate, Pedro, Leidiane Gabi, Sarah Cristina Clemar, Pilar Nadeau, Terry Farish, front row, Cynthia Chatis, and Carolyn Hutton

A mom, her little son, her teenaged daughter, a young professional, a poet laureate, a teacher of literature, a flutist-singer-artist, and me joined together to present a New Hampshire Humanities’ New Voices reading in Portsmouth. 

Sarah Cristina

Our group met often in Leidiane’s apartment to write poems. Writing poems led to writing more poems.  Leidiane wrote poems at night on her phone between cleaning jobs. Her daughter Sarah drew anime illustrations and wrote poems about the characters she created. Lediane wrote a poem called “Immensity” and that became our theme on how it felt in our imaginations to write together. Carolyn found a poem to capture our habit of not being able to stop writing poems, Billy Collins’ “The Trouble with Poetry”

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world…

That was us. And we inspired each other.  Leidiane had written a dozen poems first in Portuguese, then in English, that made us weep.  (Her daughter Sarah, 13, learned English in the past year and a half and writes in English only).  One night Leidiane whispered to us. “I am very afraid to read.” Carolyn said, “Look what you’ve done already. Look at all your poems. Even it we didn’t have the reading, you have already been successful.”  We kept writing poems.

One Tuesday we read, “Always Bring a Pencil” by Naomi Shihab Nye.  She advices that writing in pencil is a good thing for poets:

There will be certain things-/ the quiet flush of waves,/ ripe scent of fish,/ smooth ripple of the winds’ second name-/ that prefer to be written about/ in pencil./ It gives them more room/ to move around.

That inspired Carolyn to bring another description – this by Emily Dickenson – of what poets need:

“To Make a Prairie”

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

We were poets and we took the first word of Naomi’s advice, “Always…” as a beginning, and each of us wrote a verse. Later, each of us drew a single line from our poem to make this one:

Always a voice in my heart

Always a mother’s gentle hand

Always we all need you

Always ride the light

Always keep the right names

  on the book of your life

Always be there if you can

Always listen to the voice in your heart.

We had a million inspirations.  Memory, paintings, our children, our parents, our homes, grit, immigration – whether first gen or the 1900s or the 1800s. Tammi wrote about the language of her great grandmother from the Azores, Portuguese, Leidiane’s, Sarah’s, and Pedro’s first language.  Pilar wrote inspired by a collage, clipping words about immigration from the newspaper. (Please see the prompt about collage as a way to access ideas for poems at Fiesta: Focus on Immigration Education and Stories Through the Arts

No one tells the drama of building up to the point of actually doing a public reading better the Leidiane herself:

One day a teacher, at an event at school, challenged us to write a poem.  I did that on time and my teacher asked me to read it. I was shy, my English bad, Carolyn encouraged me and I thought “only one person”.

Carolyn Hutton
Teacher Carolyn Hutton

Terry came smiling, I was terrified. We talked, and Sarah was invited to participate.  I thought how wonderful it would be to be with my daughter for a moment and write about feelings! It was fun but the holidays were coming and I did not want to stop write, I thought how it would all help in my English. So we have a coffee in my house.  What would be added to this coffee and poetry but a personOh, my God, one more person. Tammi. So you came, talking about feelings with watery eyes. We fit together like water, each in its own way.  I feel like I’ve known them for a long time. Then there was talk about a presentation, for some people.  Honestly, I did not want to.  I was afraid to expose myself.  Sarah was very excited, I saw her bright eyes, we sat on the floor and wrote poems, reading to each other, but inside, I was terrified. Everything was very natural and I was able to gradually remove my armor.  When I went to see the space of the presentation I saw Cynthia with her incredible music, feeling peace and I thought on the day, look only for this.”  Leidiane Gabi

Cynthia came.

Cynthia Chatis

Tammi is a long-time collaborator with Cynthia at Beat Night at the Book & Bar in Portsmouth. At Beat Night Cynthia, a flutist and singer, accompanies or “embellishes” as she says, the spoken words of poets. Cynthia described how she approaches offering accompaniment at the New Voices reading:

“When I play to accompany a poet or reader, the experience is about ear, about listening and embellishing, if I’m called to do so — hearing the energy behind words, behind the story.  First, I will ask the reader or poet, seasoned or otherwise, if they’d like music or sound.  I would ask the reader for a ‘feel’, subject matter or energy of their piece.  Does it invoke a sweetness or is it edgy, like broken glass?  We can have that sort of dialog.  We improvise.  I am energized by the dance, relationship, duet between us and the audience.”  Cynthis Chatis

We presented the reading at the Pontine Theatre on an evening late in June. Leidiane read her poem “Immensity” about the experience of a moment on a beach in Brazil.  Tammi wrote about her lost language in her poem, “Muito Triste”, Carolyn about revery, Pilar about the sense of aloneness in America, Sarah about the power within, me about imagination – all with Cynthia’s music embellishing us.  

Leidiane Gabi and Sarah Cristina Clemar

We invited the voices of people in the community who came to the event to be key to the evening. We wanted a dialogue, a conversation with them. So we talked. Can you tell about how you came to this country? they asked.  Did you write poems in Spanish and Portuguese before you wrote in English?  Sarah described her first year in school when she couldn’t talk to anybody. The poets told about their home countries. Pilar described reading her poem in class and everyone understood the combination of loss and hope she had written about.

Yes, we did a public reading. Tammi, Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, plans to bring the New Voices readers together to read again in the city and meet its people.  The poets are ready.

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.