We're delighted to introduce The Future Sounds Like Cheerful Laughing, the 2022 edition of our K-5 Writing the Community anthology, which features poetry by K-12 students across Tucson. Below you'll find the anthology's introduction, by teaching artist Matisse Rosen, and three student poems from the book.
As the pandemic entered its second academic year, Writing the Community faced new quandaries for how to adapt to shifting constraints in the classroom. This season our residencies were not merely live or virtual, but hovered somewhere in between. While most of our students returned to school, teaching artists remained stuck at distance. While students rejoined each other masked at tables, teaching artists appeared as disembodied faces projected onscreen. Classroom teachers jumped to play the part of messenger, attempting to translate between a distorted caucus of child voices and the distant instructor’s Charlie Brown droll.
It would be easy for a technophobe like me to uplift the resilience of our students, while indicting the setbacks of this difficult medium. Yet as I reflect on what it’s felt like to teach in the spatially split classroom this year, I understand the experience has been much more strange and salient than one of diminishment.
It’s as if the spiritual curriculum imposed by these times was translated into formal constraints for a poetic experiment. Both poetry and pandemic might be called mystical instruments, for the way they draw us closer to the unshaped and the unknown. The half-virtual format of our lessons mimicked this principle, forcing me to admit as the instructor that I was not in control.
In mimetic laboratories of uncertainty, I watched students court poetry through misplaced microphones, internet lapses, and blurring pixels. Together I learned with them that poetry would find us, not in spite of these quirks, but through the particular rhythms of their interference. Forced games of telephone morphed into spontaneous lessons in translation. As we lost lines and found them anew, we discovered text as a living, unfinished document, changed by anything that touches it. Together we wondered at the holes where meaning opened.
Two years into the pandemic, we better start accepting, if we have not already, that there is no going backward. As educators and artists who face a world still very much in flux, we must understand that our ability to work well in these conditions is dependent on our capacity for adaptation and surrender.
All year, I looked to the children to show me the way. It was a relief to witness they are already expert practitioners of change and improvisation. They know how to wonder, wide-eyed, in the face of an abstract question: “Where does tomorrow live?” I shouted, amidst Zoom static, “Tomorrow lives in a green shell / Tomorrow lives in a blue wave / Tomorrow lives under a white blanket / Tomorrow is trapped in a snow bank /I think Tomorrow is inside today.” They already know how to rap associative language, and then, just ten minutes later, they know how to surrender their creations.
To me these young poets seemed little masters of impermanence. They seemed hardly aware of the most vital aspects of their poems, or rather, they seemed to understand that ultimately their awareness is irrelevant. Children seem to understand that, as Cecelia Vicuña said in correspondence with Jill Magi, “a poem is a wild thing.”
As educators of and assistants to poetry, it is our obligation to preserve and shepherd their vital awareness and abandon as young students make the transition from verbal to written language. Aligning ourselves with the mystery can help us to do this. In turn, poetry might take its place as the rightful master of our lessons.
We might choose to think of the poems collected in this anthology as beautiful citations of a process much more expansive, disharmonious, and unfinished than any fixed words on paper could capture. I experienced poetry as a vital cord suddenly connecting all my students, or as a saturation of light pouring over the classroom. And I was surprised how often I could feel this energy, despite the abysmal distance. I was surprised how often I caught myself caught up in the glow of poetry, oafishly grinning at the camera.
As these young poets continue learning to be writers, it is important to remember that, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the most vital mark of their poetic vitality will always live elsewhere, in the dynamic and ephemeral burning of their lives.
In the Distance
After Ofelia Zepeda
We see green and spiky cactus with arms in the distance.
We see water inside the cactus in the distance.
We see mountains like skyscrapers in the distance.
We see a swirling dust devil in the distance.
We see javelinas thinking of water in the distance.
We see a jaguar waiting for its prey in the distance.
We see a pond with fish in the distance.
We see eagles teaching their babies to fly in the distance.
We see orange sand in the distance.
We see sand dunes in the distance.
We see a rattlesnake in the distance.
We see a dead bush in the distance.
We see a wildcat drinking water from a grassy mountain in the distance.
-Collaborative poem by Kristy Pavatea's 4th Grade Classroom, Pueblo Gardens
Tomato Soup and Pizza
After Naomi Shihab Nye
When I think how far the tomato has traveled
Just to enter my pizza and soup today,
How it came from Mexico
Pizza so good
Soup and salt
Pizza yumm and tomato
-Wilondja Ngena, Jade Tran, and Santos Medina
Stars are like smaller suns
A star is like a burning fire in the bright sky
The stars are like sprinkles on a chocolate cup
Stars are like glowing glitter in the air
-Juliana J. Valdez
If you're a classroom teacher or community educator interested in applying for a Writing the Community residency, you can do so here.