We're delighted to introduce Imagine if We Could Fly, the 2021 edition of our K-5 Writing the Community anthology. Below you'll find the anthology's introduction, by teaching artist Saraiya Kanning, and three student poems from the book.
More than a year after the start of the pandemic, with vaccinations underway and hopes high as many students return to in-person education, I find myself reflecting on the tremendous challenges and opportunities held in humanity’s collective and varied experience of these times. Teachers and parents searched for creative ways to keep their child’s education vibrant while juggling work and daily life at home. Cats found their audience on screen. Dogs barked in the background. We created and lost Zoom links. We went through portals into break-out rooms. We saw each other’s bedrooms and living rooms. And in all these moments of new learning, the arts became more important than ever. In a virtual world where screens dominate the eye, time spent focused on creative writing proved precious and nourishing for children and adults alike.
It is the arts–this underfunded, sometimes undervalued, arena of vital human expression–which kept many of us sane, whether you binge-watched Netflix or drew a self-portrait, cooked a meal or quilted a blanket. Among these key moments of emotional and mental release that the arts provide sits the Writing the Community program in Tucson’s public schools. Ten years after its founding, Writing the Community found itself, like other institutions, adapting to shifting reality. We survived, and instructors found a way to bring their enthusiasm for creative writing into the online classroom.
These writing residencies became channels for the voices of young people across our desert city. In this anthology, you’ll find poems about daily life: celebrations, odes to dogs, love notes to family, reflections on space, otherworldly travels. You will hear children and youth reflecting on the delights of ice cream and newborn siblings. Some lines shine out with sudden and immense insight. As 3rd grader Senerika Sanchez writes, “I always wanted to go in someone’s body/ Because I want to see how they see things.” That is the essence of poetry: a moment in empathy. A moment beyond one’s own mind. When you read these poems, leave behind your world, and drink deeply of the voices of Tucson’s youngest generations.
As an instructor, I was ever searching for ways to make the online classroom more engaging. What would it take to trigger the seat of inner joy, of laughter, of creative flow? Finding this has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve experienced as an online instructor, particularly since my own mind tends towards distraction in the Zoom environment. I relate to that child who wants to turn off their screen or who is looking elsewhere, out a window, dreaming on a cloud. If I am to stay heart-and-soul alive on the screen, I need movement and laughter. I had to become more courageous, creative, exploratory, and experimental in my teaching. In this time emerged my first lesson plans incorporating music and dance, arising from my own intense need to pay attention to my stagnant sitting body. If I felt bored or fidgety, students certainly would, too. We danced to Zumba videos, invented our own moves, drew pictures while listening to electronic music, studied the paintings of artists from around the world, and wrote poetry about it all. We weren’t only writers. We were scientists learning about cosmic rays and supernovas, observing the world and asking questions. We were musicians tapping rhythms and calling out in repetition. We were visual artists fed by color. We were dreamers, inventors, dancers, and more. We were whole artists trying to transcend the weariness of endless screen time in order to remember our very humanness: body, mind, soul.
It is a year that has reminded me of the true power the arts. Far beyond merely drawing beauty or writing feelings, the arts are a mode of survival. We need math, science, and literacy to function in society, make a living, and explore the world. But we need the arts especially in order to be free of spirit, to imagine radical possibilities when life otherwise constrains. We need the arts as an antidote to the numbness brought on by life’s relentless challenges, a numbness amplified by an overdose of virtual living. Kelvin Lindsey, a 4th grader whose poem “Tough Times” can be found within the pages of this anthology, says it all in these lines:
We do need to fight
Because it is already so
To all those who kept this program alive in the schools throughout the pandemic, know how appreciated you are in your adaptability, will-power, and resilience. You made the Zoom classroom that much brighter for having provided this channel for the arts. This includes our Education Coordinators Wren Awry and Gema Ornelas, whose meticulous organization and care made for a seamless flow of necessary and timely information. This includes schoolteachers, who created space for creative writing sessions in their already busy and constantly changing class schedules. This includes our teaching artists who understand, deeply and daily, the power of words, who bring their passion and enthusiasm for writing into each lesson plan. This includes family members who supported students in myriad ways, spinning plates while tending to other children and/or the demands of their own professions. And this certainly includes all the students who had little choice in what their Zoom experience would look like, who showed up hungry for their friends and teachers, questing after the gem of education in whatever form it came. To our readers: know the story behind the words in this anthology. They were not crafted in a time of ease. They reflect our pandemic reality in all its sorrow, humor, clarity, confusion, strangeness, and dailiness.
May children and youth thrive through the arts, and may we treasure their expression,
All We Say About Poetry, Puppies, and Kittens
Poetry is a rainbow dress with cotton candy
Poetry is a soft kitten’s meow
Poetry is dogs playing fetch
Poetry is a puppy playing with a kid
Poetry is a bat opening its wings and swooping down
Poetry is the sunny summer
Poetry is icy water
Poetry is pancakes with KitKats
Poetry is hot cocoa that you drink when it’s cold outside
Poetry is a ghost
Poetry is a sour watermelon ghost
Poetry is a fluffy cat
Poetry is a blanket
Poetry is my mother who plays with me and hugs me
Poetry is my brother who shares his PS 4
Poetry is my little brother who plays with me
-Collaborative poem by Kacie Bottock's 1st Grade Classroom, Pueblo Gardens
Wings of Fire
Dragon you sound like fire burning at night.
You taste like smoke.
I dream of you and me soaring through the sky.
I want to thank you for teaching me poetry Mr. T and Mrs. E.
When I close my eyes, I hear you singing eyes blue like the Atlantic.
When I close my eyes, I can feel your warmth.
That is why you bring me joy.
Time Soars By
Time goes by slow or fast
It depends on how you want it to go
You can find time anywhere you go
It does not matter where you are
It is always floating in the air
Sometimes you don’t want it to go
Sometimes it does not listen to you
It chooses what it wants when it wants
But when it listens to you it is kind
Time follows you
It is like memories flying above you
And it is always those special moments in your memories when it wants
you to remember
Time is all those special things in your life in your world
Time soaring high above you Time Soars By
If you're a classroom teacher or community educator interested in applying for a Writing the Community residency, you can do so here.