Posted by: DéLana | September 12, 2010

Community & Workshops

Oh iPhone, you let me take photos of things right in front of me! The above photo is a picture of a small flier made for my fall workshop at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural center in Queens.

I was contacted a few months ago and asked by the Curator there if I would be interested in leading a workshop within the community and I promptly agreed. Earlier this summer I did a two-session workshop for teens about writing in the city. Here’s a photo of some of the participants:

Aren’t they charming? They’re currently writing a poem after Lucille Clifton’s poem “What I think when I ride the train.” I asked them to think about what they see on their daily commutes. The little one on the left, just 8 years old, wrote a strapping poem about his walk to school, and the trees and teachers he sees everyday.

I want to take this opportunity to speak about the importance of community and cultural centers/libraries. They are important, free resources in the middle of our neighborhoods, and oftentimes under-utilized. Have you been to your local library lately? Discovered what opportunities exist there? I’m trying to coordinate some similar workshops within Harlem, but for right now, I am traveling to Queens for the next five Thursdays to talk about how we can use writing to tell our own stories, and how we can use the objects we live with, the objects that define us, as a jumping-off point into poetry.

The first session of the workshop the flier mentioned was a get-to-know you workshop. Though the library is in Corona, NY – along the 7-train line, past LaGuardia Airport, participants came from all over Queens: Forest Hills, Astoria, Corona, and even as far as Long Island and the Rockaways. The beauty of community and cultural centers as places for workshop is the guarantee that there is no homogeneity of participants; everyone came from different walks of life: an older Black gentleman with the largest peppery afro I’ve seen in a while, a young White woman who’s just beginning to take writing seriously, an Actor from Colombia, spoken word artists, community members looking for a platform to put pen to paper and think and talk about writing. We did a short writing exercise in which we listed significant childhood experiences. I remember reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird while at Soul Mountain (Marilyn Nelson’s brain child of a writing retreat), and probably the biggest thing I took from that book was the idea that we should write about our childhoods; that there is so much rich content if only we just looked “backwards.” So we listed events from our childhood, and wrote journal-like entries. I pushed the participants to find/think about objects that related to each event, and choose one and write for a minute as if writing in a journal about that event. Stirring up emotions and memories.

After that exercise, we read Jorge Luis Borges’ “Borges and I” – a poem I encountered in a workshop as a participant, and a poem I love returning to as a get-t0-know you poetry exercise, as a discussion of what it is to be a writer and “live-r” in the world. We read and discussed the poem, and thought about how we could think of ourselves as two separate entities. We shared the beginnings of the poem.

I am excited about the future sessions. We’ll discuss family relics and photos, music, write about our interiors – the domestic places of our childhood. The participants seemed equally as excited to come and share and come back and write and share some more.

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