May 30, 2011

Community Arts Learning

Writing captures the voices, the history, the landscape into a piece of art; it serves to build and strengthen community.  It is not true that only a select few are capable of making great artistic work. Great writing happens everywhere.  In every class I teach, I hear new and arresting voices. Not all of the writers want to hone their skill or pursue publication, but if they did, they in all likelihood would achieve success.

Reading a good poem, story or essay enhances our life. Besides offering beauty, it fosters empathy and understanding. Writing a good poem, story or essay gives us the opportunity to use an image or a metaphor to enter complexity. For me, writing is a type of way-finding, a lamp in darkness. This is the experience with writing that I want to share with others.   

With an Arts and Cultural Heritage Community Arts Learning grant through the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and the willingness of some nonprofit organizations (The Women's Shelter, Family Justice Center and the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN) I began to teach writing for people in transition.  Since I began the project in October 2010, I've logged 40 classroom hours of teaching “Writing for Transition.”  I have worked with diverse levels of experience with writing.  Many were moving through violence; many were moving through ordinary life changes. 

The Depot - Community Arts Learning Group: monthly group Dec 2010-ongoing
Womenʼs Shelter: January 8-February 12, 2011 (weekly workshop for 6 weeks)
Family Justice Center: monthly group, January 31 - ongoing
Domestic Abuse Intervention Project: June 20

And the culmination of this effort will be a publication, Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life's Transitions, pub date October 1, 2011 (Wildwood River Press).

In my role as Duluth Poet Laureate, 2010-2012, I've also focused on the same themes. I've taught a workshop "Change, Change, Rearrange: Writing for Transitions" on November 15, 2010.  Also, in an attempt to reach out to an audience that is not necessarily an arts audience, I made a call for submissions of poems on the topic of transitions or that were blessings, and created four placemats that present the work of 35 area writers; these were given away at the Empty Bowl, a fundraiser for the Northern Lakes Food Bank.  The Empty Bowl provides a hand-made bowl made by an area potter; the event sells about a thousand tickets and serves a thousand bowls of soup donated by local restaurants.  The placemats fit into this setting very well; when diners sat down with the bowl of soup, they also had the opportunity to read the work of regional writers.  These placemat poems also will be published in the forthcoming book.

Besides the Empty Bowl project, I've had the opportunity to present workshops to students and community people in the following settings:

Unity School (the alternative high school in Duluth, 10th grade) workshop: March 21, 2011

UWS Young Authorʼs Conference (7th and 8th grade): April 5, 2011.  Two breakout sessions.

Fondulac Community College, Cloquet, MN: April 6, 2011 workshop and reading

Grand Rapids Library: April 12, 2011 a childrenʼs and an adult workshop about writer's voice.

It is my goal to share the experience of writing I've had with others, to help others create poems, stories or essays using the material that their own life provides. I'd like help others access their own way-finding, in order to be able to listen to the inner voice.  It's the best guide through life. In my opinion, personal expression is therapeutic but there is another, more important goal: to access a larger vision that connects the self to the community, and then brings the community to other communities.  This exchange happens in the social space, between reader and writer, between one person and another.  What I want is not just one insisting voice, but a dialogue, a circle of conversation that invites other voices.

Creative work is essential.  It doesn't matter where one begins; it does matter that one begins.