Starting the New Year off right: I've spent the past couple weeks launching some new programs with nonprofit partners Literary Cleveland and Lake Erie Ink. I'm excited to share what I've learned so far. To me, this work feels like a continuation of my journey as a writer and teacher with a passion for helping people express themselves and develop their craft.
Last night, I taught the first session of Advanced Poetry with Lit Cleveland, and eight participants spent a couple of hours going deep into the poetry revision process, talking about the poems "Butter" and "Brutal" by Andrea Cohen, and then performing surgery on their own work. Be careful when trying this at home! In this revision exercise, writers are invited to use scissors to cut up printed versions of their poems and then rearrange the lines -- and line endings -- for different effects. The results were interesting. Some folks hardly changed their poems. Others surgically removed a line or word here and there to nice effect. And others ended up with radically pared down versions of their pieces. (There were no paper cuts and only minor injuries, mostly bruised feelings.) The photo above is what I came up with when I cut up Andrea Cohen's poem "Butter" and made my own found poem.
But wait, there's more!
I've also been working with Lake Erie Ink on a program at the Mandel Jewish Day School. Last week, I taught a poetry lesson to a group of seventh graders where we identified some key poetic devices, completed a Mad Libs style exercise based on Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberries" where they had to try to fill in some of the blanks with their own creative ideas, and then listened to the author read the classic poem. Tomorrow, I'm attending a panel discussion with two community change makers who will discuss how and why they do the work they do in Northeast Ohio. The students will have a chance to ask questions of the nonprofit leaders and will learn about how to take interview notes and develop their own questions. In the coming weeks, I'll be working with the students to complete more interviews of change makers and write profiles.
Finally, I'm excited to be working with Lake Erie Ink and Cleveland.com to help coordinate Write About Now, a student journalism and writing program launched in memory of arts reporter Nikki Delamotte, who died tragically. Nikki had a passion for youth and was an avid volunteer with Lake Erie Ink. For 10 Tuesdays this winter, students in grades 8-12 will work with writers at Cleveland.com to learn about and engage in journalism projects, ultimately working to publish original work on their site. They'll also receive a stipend after completing the session.
I can't believe it's already January 15th ...
In the past few months, I've taken my teaching on the road -- visiting CMSD's Campus International School (CIS), where my kids go to school, and teaching poetry and personal narrative writing; teaching an after-school creative writing program at CIS; and visiting classrooms and meeting with Davey Fellows at University School, my high school alma mater, to read poems from my book How to Live in Ruins and discuss solutions to urban redevelopment and social inequality in Cleveland.
It's been fun to be working with K-12 students again, for a few reasons. First, creative writing programs are the perfect complement to the skills-based education kids are getting all day (though CIS has exemplary art programs) and not all schools can offer them. Second, when kids get into it, they get really into it -- after I taught at lesson in my daughter Emily's class and had the kids write poems based on the children's classic "Bleezer's Ice Cream," they made the above poster for me. (I love the fact that the Y stands for "You create the rules." Some of the comments include "Thank you for teaching us poetry and making us like it" (making?) and "Thank you for the amazing poetry class, it was the best when we made our own poems.") And finally, it's meaningful to see kids get in the zone, especially when we're so distracted and scheduled we often don't have time for deep thinking and learning.
Thanks for the teachers at CIS who helped me and to Jim Garrett at University School. Below are photos from my visit with Davey Fellows.
State and Local Officials Provided Millions of Dollars in Subsidy to Amazon for Jobs that Would Have Come Here ANyway
Click here to read the article in FreshWater.
In the past year, I've been working on a collection of songs I'm calling "Time Won't Wait." They're a mix of poems that I've adapted and songs written as songs. The narrative thread that runs through the collection is the passage of time, from childhood to adulthood. It's about seeking moments that make time slow down in a busy, frenetic world, about how time changes your life perspective, and about how time takes its toll on Cleveland neighborhoods.
I'll be performing these songs, as well as a few classic covers, with some fabulously talented musicians -- Jen O'Leary on vocals, Aidan Plank on bass and Dan Bruce on guitar with special guest Ariel Karas on violin -- on Sunday, October 13th at 8 pm at the Happy Dog (W. 58th and Detroit Ave.). The cover is $5 and thanks to Brian Straw we'll be recording the gig. Afterwards, I'll put some songs on the site. Come be part of history! Ha, ha.
In the past few years, I have to admit that I've wrestled with my own interest in songwriting and music ... How does it fit in with my interest in writing? Can I be both a singer-songwriter and a poet/journalist/nonfiction writer at once? It certainly helps to work with great musicians that help me get better ... I think that's the trick, in the end, to find a community.
Who are the Bad Garfunkels? In my mind, it's me, Jen and whoever else decides to show up, ha, ha. Several years ago, Jen and I were playing together and we missed a vocal or harmony or something, and she said, "Sorry, I was a bad Garfunkel there." It stuck, and in my head that's always been our group name.
My essay, "Out and Back Again," which was published in Cleveland Magazine's Aug. 2019 issue, is now featured online on their home page here.
It's a struggle for many parents to get their kids out of the house, off screens and into nature. Especially living in the city, where there are safety issues and there aren't as many green spaces.
Katherine and I have perfected our method: lying. When we go to the Cuyahoga Valley, we call it a trip. An adventure. A walk with ice cream at the end of it. Anything but a hike, no, not that!
I'm continually amazed at how beautiful and secluded the Valley can feel once you're in it, and so close to the city. Sure, the highway sounds linger, but it's 30 mins. away ...
On Saturday, Sept. 21st from 12-1 pm, I'll be at Cleveland Public Library's main branch to explore and discuss place-based writing with local writer Damien Ware. We will read from our works and share our experiences living in and writing about Cleveland. Copies of my books How to Live in Ruins and The Shape of Home will be for sale along with Damien's recent works.
Click here for more info.
On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens will celebrate the 74th annual One World Day, a festival highlighting the 32 different cultures worldwide that are represented in the gardens as well as the 100-plus nationalities residing in Northeast Ohio.
The event will be a milestone for the cultural gardens, a completely unique entity that only exists in Cleveland, says Lori Ashyk, executive director of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation. “I think it’s going to be bigger and better than ever and will help further our mission of peace through mutual understanding,” she says.
Read the full story in FreshWater Cleveland here.