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Marge Pellegrino recommends...
Poetry books for children make wonderful springboards to writing. Anyone who's been to a Family Days' event at the Poetry Center has witnessed the excitement that can ensue when the just-right poem inspires original words.
Since I've only got room for ten, I'll include books I've used more than a few times because they work with students and intergenerational groups in school, library and community settings:
For eight to twelve year olds:
On September 17, at 11:30 a.m., participants from the Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Project recite original work on themes of war and peace in response to Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children's Paintings, on display at the Poetry Center from August 29 to September 23. Join us!
The Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther project will take part in the Speak Peace exhibit on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, even knowing that we walk a fine line when we ask those whose lives have been damaged by war to speak back, speak out, speak peace to images depicting that very aggression.
Our participants are as young as five and a few grandfathers are as old as sixty. They come from Congo, Guatemala, Mali, El Salvador, Chile, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Each carries private memories of the brutality of war, some the scarcity of camps. Others still witness a family member's ongoing battle with PTSD's haunting night visitors.
When introducing Speak Peace, one woman balked. She wouldn't write about war. Done, flat out refusal. She didn't want to look at the images projected at the Poetry Center the night we introduced the project. But the images weren't all bombs and mayhem. And she will be invited to choose one with a band aid on the world, or an image where peace is already peeking out from the scarred earth. And if that proves difficult at all, she'll be asked to paint her own soothing image from which to speak peace.
Collaborative Poetry can push an experience and build group cohesiveness, validate feelings and foster confidence with words. My first experience facilitating a collaborative poem remains a model for my other forays into group writing.
In 2000, I was working with an inter-generational group of refugees from Central America in the Owl and Panther Program, a partnership of The Hopi Foundation and the Pima County Public Library. We started the workshop by viewing the poignant film If the Mango Tree Could Speak. The film documented youth who couldn't flee the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador as the families in this workshop had. We watched and listened as the youth in the film shared what they experienced and witnessed.