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.

“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.

For Laurie, a Welcoming New Hampshire Story

“Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.”

Laurie Lalish with three of her Bhutanese students in Laconia, 2010

In 2010, Laurie Lalish of Lutheran Social Services, now Ascentria, conducted a visual arts project with her ESL class in Laconia who created imagery of their homeland. They continued drawing images of home when Jo Radner and I were invited by Laurie to work with her class to do a folktale project. This was New Hampshire Humanities’ Bilingual Folktale Project conducted through the Connections Adult Literacy.

Dal Rai, illustrator of The Story of a Pumpkin, drawing a landscape of Bhutan.

All of Laurie’s students were Nepali-speaking parents and grandparents who had been exiled from their homes in Bhutan. They had lived as refugees in Nepal for 20 years before coming to New Hampshire. Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.

They continued to draw after Jo and I, with interpreter Nilhari Bhandari, listened to many of their stories.  After the tellings,  they drew landscapes from home, their farmhouses, their animals, the temples of their country.

After the project, the students, including Jay Jogi and Kamal Dangal, gave their illustrations to Laurie  out of appreciation and respect for

Notice the art on Laurie’s classroom walls.

first English teacher.

Soon after the project,  Laurie had to stop teaching because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A few years later, she contacted me.  She invited me to her house. She lives on a mountainside and it was a beautiful, sunny December day.  She showed me all the Bhutanese students’ drawings and offered them to me so that they might be known about and seen.  I showed them to Kayla Schweitzer, Heritage and Traditional Arts Coordinator of the NH State Council on the Arts.

A few months ago we both agreed on how to honor the artwork. As part of Welcoming New Hampshire, some of the art created by Bhutanese-Americans in Laurie’s class will be featured in a new gallery and meeting space in Concord called CreatingCommUNITY.

CreatingCommUNITY is part of  Welcoming New Hampshire, Weaving Cultures, Building Communities. They are working hand in hand with the national program Welcoming America. Together, all are launching events THIS week of Sept. 15 – 24.

The exhibit of refugee and immigrant art opens during Welcoming Week, Sept. 16 – 24 at CreatingCommUNITY, 18 North Main, St. Suite 206 in Concord. More details at Welcoming New Hampshire.