“In This Moment,” by WITS Teacher Marylou Gomez

Last week, WITS Writer Daemond Arrindell shared a powerful poem with us written by Marylou Gomez, his partner teacher at South Lake High School. The whole SAL staff was moved by her words and the purpose they hold.

As we try to balance on the fast-shifting political landscape, it seems more and more necessary, either for solace or self-preservation, to step away from the lives and tasks we inhabit every day, and step into someone else’s perspective. Ms. Gomez says: “In this moment, / I’d rather be a poet than a historian.”

We have many lessons to learn as a country and a community—and sometimes, the best way to make sense of our current situation is to express our feelings in a new way. Ms. Gomez’s words speak for themselves.


In This Moment
(January 21, 2017)

You know I’m not a poet, Daemond.
I don’t even like poetry.
I’m a historian
I think in terms of history lessons.
But, today—
Today, I feel like a poet.

You see, Daemond,
Where I am, I will always be considered

an immigrant
I was born here

an American
But, I will never truly fit in, always to be

an alien—

and, so begins the history lesson.
You see, when the Spanish came and tried to conquer
they accomplished an intermixing and imposed their order, Read more…

WITS Voices: Teaching William Steig

By Greg Stump, WITS Writer-in-Residence


Most people who know William Steig’s work think of him as the creator of classic children’s books like Shrek and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. But in the mid-20th century, Steig created numerous picture books for adults: Persistent Faces, The Lonely Ones, The Rejected Lovers, and many others. Most of these works could be described as existentialist graphic literature, with the artist using captioned illustrations to explore a worldview that seems much colder and anxiety-ridden than fans of his kids’ books might expect.

A common Steig trope was to title his books with an adjective and a noun, and then explore that single theme throughout the book via dozens of separate (though thematically-linked) characters or illustrations. These books aren’t narratives, then, so much as exercises in visual and conceptual thinking: Rejected Lovers shows us all the different possible fates (denial, anger, self-pity, delusion, despair) that await the spurned suitor, through a variety of visual strategies. Some images have backgrounds, while others are vignettes; we see characters from far way or at close range, depending on what approach best serves the content.

minis

As both a teacher and a cartoonist, I’ve been deeply inspired by Steig’s little books, and have borrowed his adjective-noun approach for student projects many times. This is my seventh year as a WITS Writer-in-Residence (or Graphic Novelist-in-Residence, if you want to split hairs) working with the 6th graders at McClure Middle School, and one of my favorite exercises this year has been assigning them to make miniature Steigian works of their own (a few of which are shown in the photo above). I start this activity by displaying a list of adjectives and nouns side by side on a screen, and ask the students to create a combination that evokes a rich, funny, or unexpected theme. Then, they do exactly what Steig did ­– though in a much shorter, 8-page booklet – by exploring that single theme in as many different characters as it takes to fill the book. Here’s a closer look at some of their creations. Read more…

“Holy” by WITS Student Abdullahi Mohamed

Holy

the first breath you take and
the last exhale of your life, Holy
the song stuck in your head, Holy
from a hug to a kiss to love, Holy
the new jeans you bought, Holy
when you looked better in the picture, Holy
from the speed talker to the stutterers, Holy
the anger passing you that no one realizes
the times spent with family and
laughter shared with your peers
that first bite and last sip, Holy Read more…

WITS Voices: An Alternative to Alternative Facts

By Jeanine Walker, WITS Writer-in-Residence


By the time this post is published, we will have endured several tens of other injustices, threats on our freedoms, and evasions from the new presidential administration, and the idea of “alternative facts” will, I imagine, be filed under the Folder of Growing Insanities—which is to say, not quite forgotten but deemed equal or less than other anxiety-inducing assertions and legislation we will have to face.

However, I also think this is a term that will stick. Because it bears striking resemblance to the now-known-as-prophetic 1984’s “doublethink,” the claim two weekends ago by Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway to “alternative facts” rings a certain alarming bell, awakening in us the apocalyptic literature in which many of us found ourselves engrossed for the purpose of high school English class but able, then, to read as pure fiction. The fact that a story we once dreaded in its fictitious form is now becoming more and more true makes the experience of the present moment even more striking, terrifying. There is something crucially painful in having lost the comfort that came with believing a dystopian world such as the one Orwell depicts was not possible for us. We were duped. What once existed inside of us as metaphor and figure emerges as a wolf with a hundred times as ferocious a snarl—because we are not experiencing it just once now but twice as we simultaneously endure the transformation of a beloved metaphorical world into a frightening, almost unbearable, reality. Read more…

WITS Voices: We Deal in Magic

By Matt Gano, WITS Writer-in-Residence


There’s real magic flying from the fingertips of the young poets at The Center School. We speak in terms of allusion in terms of empathy and connectivity. We cast spells in misspelled text and bend symbols of meaning to tease reality.

We deal in magic as poets, as writers, as explorers of the imagination and finders of the truth in language. I’m so encouraged and awed by the depth of care and compassion our first semester Poetry 1 class has shown this year at The Center School. We have a small class, but the buy-in and dedication to the power of creative expression is inspiring.

As a teaching artist, I couldn’t ask for a better scenario. These students’ willingness to dig into ideas, to get weird, to experiment, has made for some really exciting and special conversations about the power of poetry and the mysticism that comes with being a “creator.” Each are finding unexpected turns of phrase and sharp images in their writing, casting spells along with nets to draw the reader in.

Here are a few highlights:

CB writes:

“I’ve always hated going to the doctor’s office.
That cold smell that sinks into your nostrils and claws at your tongue,
makes your mouth echo the taste of hand sanitizer and forgotten rubber gloves.

I’ve never liked that whiteness,
the way it burns your eyes and reminds you what you’re there for.”

C writes:

“You expect me to bloom all year long.” Read more…

“Hemlockwing,” by Cordelia Christian

Hemlockwing

In my sleeping, midnight wings unfold
they are ragged, dusty,
like the silencing cobwebs
that stir in my breath
the darkness is my mooring
my ship is the resurrection of a lost dream
though that heart was long ago discarded
still beating
arms ornamented with red-brown feathers
mottled with blood
I am the sparrow, broken,
flightless, I lie twitching
I am gone

Read more…

WITS Voices: Simple and Complex

By Nikkita Oliver, WITS Writer-in-Residence


We find ourselves in the midst of hard times. They are nuanced and complex and yet simple all at once. Most of us can agree hate is not a valid political platform. This part is simple. Nonetheless, we are confronted with a new administration who seems to prefer hate and bigotry. Many of us do not know what to do now. This part feels complex.

It is 9:40 am. I step into my second period classroom at Washington Middle School where the students cheer, rush to the front of the room, and smother me with hugs. This part is simple. They are full of joy and happy to write poetry with me. As a teaching artist I live for these moments. They remind me why teaching art is a part of my discipline and practice as a creative. They remind me that a classroom does not have to be just a classroom. It can be a canvas, a spaceship, an incubator, and a safe(r) place—all at once. This part is also simple.

Due to a personal tragedy, I took a few weeks off from teaching with Writers in the Schools. So we first debrief some of what has happened while I’ve been gone. We move through the usual—issues with teachers, joys and struggles at home, school drama, birthdays. This part feels simple. This part feels human.

Inevitably, someone mentions the Trump campaign and the new administration. The room erupts with comments. They are not happy. Some of them are afraid. This part is complex. Read more…

As Soon As You Say This Word: Wolf – El Lupo – Ôkami

By Sierra Nelson, WITS Writer-in-Residence


Does the word Wolf move differently than El Lupo? Do we experience anything different in our bodies when we say the Russian word волк (pronounced “volk”) compared to the Japanese word 狼 [おおかみ Ôkami]? I was excited to explore these questions of language and translation in my WITS residency, working with Mrs. Roughton’s and Ms. Oakley’s 3rd grade classes this fall — especially since all the students at McDonald International Elementary spend half of their day learning in either Spanish or Japanese, and the other half of the day learning in English. (And this is in addition to other languages some of the students speak at home or are studying outside of school.)

For one session, we started by looking at the poem “Wolf” by Barbara Juster Esbensen from her book Words With Wrinkled Knees (and first introduced to me by fellow WITS teaching artist Karen Finneyfrock). The poem begins with this stunning image of conjuring:

As soon as you say this word
snow begins to fall

W O L F

In Seattle, where a few inches of snow is a big deal, and even the threat of a big snow storm may be cause enough for schools to close, this kind of word-magic is extra potent. In one of my classes at McDonald International, as the meaning of Esbensen’s opening really sunk in, the students began to chant “Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!” and looked hopefully out the window. Was it working? What else might a poem need to open up the skies? Read more…

WITS Voices: “Black Lives Matter is…”

By Daemond Arrindell, WITS Writer-in-Residence


the skin stays silent 

it is our blind eyes that give them voices

or take them away

On Wednesday, October 19th, Seattle Public Schools put their foot out there in a pretty public way. Faculty, administrators and parents at numerous schools throughout the greater Seattle area showed their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of their Black students, by wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts.

In progressive, liberal Seattle, a city that prides itself on making political statements but then doesn’t always back it up with policy or action, that celebrates its “diversity” while quickly and consistently gentrifying that population, this is a positive step—but important to recognize it is just one step. Folks identifying themselves as allies can step in and out of a t-shirt at will or convenience, but for those who identify as Black, the statement Black Lives Matter is made out of necessity because our existence in our skin is 24/7 at risk.

Just the day before, the three classes of sixth graders I was working with completed an anaphora lesson (also known as list poems), where lines either begin or end with the same phrasings. These poems enlist a great deal of repetition and can take on a rhythmic or musical tone. The hook or chorus of most songs works in this same fashion. Due to their familiarity with this structure, I think that even though some of the students express a lack of confidence in their creativity or writing skills, all who participate go on to create something meaningful. Read more…