(Once a week for six weeks in March and April I was gifted the opportunity to visit the classrooms at Lake and Park to explore writing together, taking time with each of the senses, with a slant toward poetry. Special thanks to Billie Swift and Eileen Hynes for making this possible. As a teaching artist, I visit up to 10 schools in a school-year and was stunned by the warmth, sophistication and aliveness of the atmosphere at L & P. I was so honored to visit and learn from so many bright students and teachers. )
After-Images From My Time at Lake & Park: a List Poem
By Samar Abulhassan, Writer in Residence
1. It’s my last day, and the kids are busy with scissors and ribbon, making their own books for the book bazaar. They are gathering writing they’ve completed over the last few weeks, including some of the poems we’ve grown together. Desks are rainbow seas of construction paper, glitter and ink. Hands sticky with glue and giddiness.
2. At Lake and Park, writing is dreaming and walking and smelling and seeing. Writing is wandering and slowing down and being. Eileen shuttles me between rooms and worlds. Invisible threads zigzag from class to class, from sky to ground. This has a lot to do with the blended grade classrooms, and the ecosystem of themes and disciplines merged together. The whole atmosphere feels like a living poem, leaves your heart wild open.
3. In the Big Room, the classroom finches offer long, cheeping birdsong. They pepper the atmosphere with cheer, keep our writing winged and wondering. When I come in for each session, stumbling to find a spot to put my stuff down, Morgan is reading aloud. Her voice immediately soothes and grounds me.
4. In poetry class, I like to talk about the power of the in-between. I enter L & P during a writing-focused unit, and the school feels like a carnival of writing. Poem riddles on the walls tease me. In the stairwell, a poet-tree umbrellas me as I switch classes. “Come and rest awhile with me.” Self-portraits on walls are full of zig-zagging, curving lines of words, prompting me to take in a little at a time.
5. One day we are focused on smell and memory. We sit in circles and pass around small spice jars and essential oils. Ezra writes, “I remember learning my first letter of my life, A.” Even sweet spices evoke charged memories: “I remember slamming my hand in the car door,” writes Lola. Sounding memories is infectious: fragments of recall spill into our circle as one memory activates another.
6. Early in the residency we hold in our hands Seattle photographer Julie Graber’s photographs. Before we begin to absorb these sensual, emotional photographs, we close our eyes and imagine “what we can’t see with our two regular eyes.” Noe writes, “My third eye can see my cat’s dreams/I see the wind blowing/She is in the jungle/She is a tiger/Her beautiful black stripes/ glisten/glisten in the sunlight/For a second/I almost believe it is real.”
7. In the North Room, Quynh keeps us positive, focused and grounded. The candle flame in Nadia’s poem flickers in my own mind, evoking candle smoke. Finnian’s ode to kittens explodes, filling our minds with fuzzy-furry and fierce images. Tennyson’s words on the wall dance above our heads “the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls.”
8. One spring morning, we hold a single class in a large room downstairs with the Beginners as we explore the question “What is Poetry?” after reading J. Simeon’s “This is a Poem that Heals Fish.” The kids juxtapose favorite “unlike” words together, and Camille is the muse keeping us buoyant, tossing the electric poetry ball in the air. Poetry is gymnastics flipping through the sun.
9. After I read Katrina Goldsaito’s “The Sound of Silence” (a book that explores the Japanese concept of ‘ma’ as the silence between sounds) to the North Room kids, Eileen leads us on a silent walk one sunny morning. We’re on the cusp of spring. We enjoy silent exchanges with dogs and flowers and neighbors. We’re more alert to footstep, lawn mower, whoosh of cars. “Silence is the sleep of the past and the future but still … the eye of inspiration,” writes Rhea.
10. I guide the youngest writers in a collaborative poem that shape-shifts. Sometimes it is fast movement that keeps us limber and alert. “I travel between two hurricanes, spinning,” writes Gus. “I dive into the hawk’s wing, soft as quilt,” writes Maggie. Ezra offers: “I hover above bright sadness, woooooooooooooo.”