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.
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
“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….
The children and these extraordinary art teachers put Joseph’s – really Whoosh’s (but she likes him) – bike all together like this…
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.
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.
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.
“This is how we’re gonna do. We’re gonna dance the Nepali song. Cross left leg over right. One – two – three – go.” Then the movie song, Kale Dai, blasted from the instructor Pujan Wagley’s phone through the school gym. Over the weeks, we moved from the Nepali dance into “Whatcha Gon Do With That Dessert.” And Pujan, a student at Worcester State and a Bhutanese dancer, taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders hip hop moves to rapper Darwin’s song. Students end with a flowy, traditional dance to Ki Chhori hu ma. This is a story about working with Pujan at Concord, NH’s Broken Ground School where I brought a poetry workshop, too – so together Pujan and I offered poetry and dance. Our work was supported by a grant to the 21C After School program by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
Here are some lines of poems students wrote about dancing with friends and with Pujan:
Pujan is one of the best dancers in the world.
When I dance I feel happy inside because
my body is moving.
I love dancing.
Pujan is so fun. I love dancing with Pujan
These are Pujan’s own words, “1 – 2 – 3 – Go.”
Then we start.
My name is Molly. I drift
with the beat.
right, left, right, left.
Now repeat that a few times.
My name is Molly. I drift
with the beat.
No matter what, I keep dancing
When I dance with Pujan I feel…
When I dance with Pujan he says,
left arm high,
then right arm high
Out of time.
Put your left hand here and put your
right hand here. The girls do this
and the boys do this.
It is really fun to dance with Pujan.
He says one foot at a time and move
your hips and, Always smile every time.
and, Don’t look sad. Be happy.
That’s why I love dancing.
When people dance with Pujan they feel like
they are about to fly in the Milky Way
because he can teach you how to do the dance
moves in a second. He doesn’t yell when you get
the moves wrong.
Dance feels like you could just
lift up into the clouds with
a mind of joy.
Well-loved volunteers who came to see the students perform at Parent’s Night and were awarded with flowers and art.
Of course we read lots of poems. Here’s a reading list of ideas for a poem and dance celebration.
Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More, Poems for Two Voices. We played with poems in two voices to feel the rhythm of movement back and forth between readers.
Arm in Arm – by Remy Charlip
I love this book for it’s crazy whimsy. The students didn’t move into stillness, but a way to imagine it comes from Remy’s poem:
BEFORE ME PEACEFUL
BESIDE ME PEACEFUL
BEHIND ME PEACEFUL
ABOVE ME PEACEFUL
BELOW ME PEACEFUL
ALL AROUND ME PEACEFUL
Remy always makes me smile. Take “Riddle Joke:
“Ask me if I’m a boat. / Are you a boat? / Yes. Now ask me if I’m an airplane. / No, silly. I’m a boat.”
Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill includes this poem we read like an echo chant.
And colors sing,
And colors laugh,
And colors cry___
They make you feel
Every feeling there is.”
Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield especially “Way Down in the Music”
This is Just to Say, poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman
The title of our workshop was “Building Friendships Through Dance and Creative Writing” and this collection gave us ideas for writing about friends, including “Dark Haired Girl.”
You Read to Me I’ll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman. I adapted the poem “New Friends” in this collection and it inspired many students’ poems about meeting a new friend for the first time.
Congratulations Pujan, new friend, and kids at Broken Ground!