The Power of Words
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This year Community-Word Project's art residency at P.S. 132 was all about New York City. The students incorporated aspects of the city into all of their poetry, and produced an anthology that will be given to their families and friends,. They also held a live reading in front of the whole school. They are nervous, but also very excited.
As the school year drew to a close, it was easy to see not only how much their writing had grown, but also how seamlessly they are able to integrate their lives as Miniature-New Yorkers into their work.
One week during my residency, my mentors, Teaching Artists Elizabeth Leonard and Maria Schrimer, told Ms. Amaro’s class that they would have to pick one work that they wanted to go into their class’s anthology. They were to copy a poem of their choosing onto a fresh sheet of paper, making any necessary edits. I walked over to one table and was immediately bombarded by a chorus of “I don’t know which one to choose!” I told the students to take a moment and read through all of the poems they’d written. I said the one they chose should be one that they were really proud of, that they had fun writing, that they wanted other people to see. That was enough to get most of the children down to work within a few minutes, but not one girl.
After a few moments of sitting at her desk and looking stricken, I asked this student if she needed help picking a poem. “Well,” she said. “I really like my Acrostic Peace Poem, but it’s not finished.” I stood beside her and read her poem, which was very good. For this assignment, students were asked to write a line of poetry for each letter of the word “Peace,” using a different sense for each line. She was missing a line for the final “E,” that had to use smell. It seemed simple enough to complete in the given time.
I told her to list all the “E” words she could think of and we’d go from there. She gave me a lot of words, and I gave her some suggestions as well. We even went over to the class library to look at some alphabet books for ideas, but none of them seemed inspiring. Beginning to feel dejected, I told her to copy the other lines and think about any of the “E” words we’d mentioned that might have a strong smell, in the mean time I wanted to check on how the other kids were doing.
Ms. Elizabeth gave students a three minute warning. I ran over to the struggling student, feeling bad that my ideas hadn’t seemed to help, and worried that she might have to submit a poem she didn’t feel as connected to. “Earth!” she yelled, as soon as I reached her. I told her that was awesome, and that I couldn’t believe we had not thought of it earlier, and that Earth was great because it has so many smells like grass, flowers, and dirt. “And the river,” she added. I told her that was a great choice, and she’d better start writing fast so she could finish in time. Without pausing, she wrote, "Earth smells polluted, like the river we need to clean.”
“Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed. “That’s amazing! How did you think of that?” She told me that last summer her mother took her to the zoo and they walked by the Bronx River. She said it smelled really bad, and she figured if people picked up all the trash she saw floating in it, it would probably smell a lot better. If it did, she might even get to stick her head in the water, which her mother had previously forbidden.
Ms. Elizabeth said, "Pencils down!" I whispered how proud I was of her as I began collecting assignments. She beamed from the compliment. I spent the whole day beaming as well. I can not help but wonder how different the world would be if every artist used their work as a call to action; a demand to better the earth, for example. If a seven year old girl was able to use poetry to delight and inspire a twenty-nine year old seasoned writer, imagine how powerful her work will be in ten or twenty years! Once again I was reminded, the real power is in words.
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