Where We’re From: 100+ Writers Add Lines to #WriteOut Collaboration

Where We're From Poem: Infographic

When we asked if people might contribute to a poem based on George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From and inspired by Kwame Alexander’s crowd-sourced version for National Public Radio, we didn’t know if anyone would answer the call. Well, they sure did. We had more than 100 contributors to a collective, collaborative poem that spans more than 8 pages of writing.

Wow.

We are now in the process of getting more than 30 volunteers to read stanzas from the poem, which we intend/hope to weave together to create an audio mosaic of voice for the poem itself.

Here is the text of the poem:

Peace (is where we’re from),
Kevin

#WriteOut Book Review: The Lost Words (A Spell Book)

Here’s a book about paying attention. The authors noted that an edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed about 40 words related to nature. Words like Fern, Kingfisher, Wren and Bluebell. This book —The Lost Words: A Spell Book — is a response, and what a response it is.

The Lost Words is one of the more beautiful books I have discovered in some time — it is oversized, requiring two hands to hold it, and it has gorgeous artwork and some amazing poems all connected, page by page, to the words that were decided to be taken out by the dictionary folks.

Each page here is a treasure, and a reminder that our words help us to understand our world. When we lose our words, we start to lose a sense of the spirit of nature. Writer Robert MacFarlane and Illustrator Jackie Morris seek to recover and rediscover those ideas, and give rise to seeing the world through fresh eyes, with poems (which they call spells) and pictures.

I’ll share two online resources connected to the book, which is sponsored in part by the John Muir Trust. First, there is a Lost Words Explorer Guide, which is loaded with learning activities, and then there is a more generalized guide to connecting nature to writing.

This book would be perfect for any elementary classroom and yet, has enough detail and passion to find a place in a middle school classroom, as well.

Peace (found),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: What I Wrote In Our WMWP Writing Marathon

Writing Marathon at SPAR(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I helped organize and facilitate a writing marathon for the National Day on Writing and Write Out on Sunday at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and like the 18 educators who signed up to take part in the event, I wrote my way throughout the afternoon, inspired by the museum and its archives. We had themed inspiration stations set up around the Armory to help spark ideas.

You can sense in my writing some the tension behind being inside a historical place that made the weapons that helped the US win wars through guns and arms. This is a tension I always feel when running programs for teachers and summer camps for middle school students at the Springfield Armory. I once wrote about this idea and titled it What To Do When Your Classroom is Filled with Guns.

Here are snippets and rough pieces of mine from each of the writing areas.

Writing: The Welder

Special Photo Exhibit

The Welder

Obscured by
flames and fire —
the welder molds
iron and steel
into arms —
the camera rebels
the bright heat light
shrouded by aura,
and those of us who watch
from time and distance
only notice the moment,
frozen

Writing: Dear Women of the Armory

Industry Display: Worker Group Photo

Dear Women of the Armory,

Thank you. I’m sure stepping into a national arms manufacturing plant — with the world at war and no end in sight — could not have been an easy choice. Maybe even you had your doubts — about war, about guns, about your own skills. I am sure Society’s story of you until now, as a woman, was at home, not here, but events forced Society’s hand. And you answered the call. You learned a complicated, intricate job. You were part of a team. You made a difference. Who knows what price you paid. Did you leave children each day or night at home to come here? Did you have a husband at war, always on your mind? Did you worry about the outcome of the battles abroad? Whatever it was that kept your mind concerned, you did your job here, and you did it well. You may not have realized it at the time, but your efforts and the efforts of many more women like you began a cultural shift in the way women would forever be seen in society. You changed the world. Thank you.

Wartime Sisters passages

Reading an excerpt of The Wartime Sisters novel and Taking the Character for a Walk (with apologies to author Lynda Cohen Loigman)

Millie rarely wonders too much at the gun beyond the assembly line, where her fingers move over the lock plate as if it were the most common task in the world. It’s all motion — this goes here, this goes there. Millie only sees the moment in front of her.

It’s at those other times, when everyone has gone home and her own shared household with her sister goes quiet, that she thinks more about what her work really is, and how what she is building day after day will be used. A bullet, in the chamber, fired down the long barrel, flying through air, penetrating a target. And the target, she knows, is a person, a human person, and that person might be killed by the very work she is doing.

She is the first step in the death of someone.

Or the first step in saving someone’s life, she tells herself, too. Not killing someone. Saving someone. A brother, or a father, or a husband, or a neighbor. She nearly convinces herself of the truth of it.

Writing: To Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetic Response to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘Organ of Muskets’ (1844)

Whose dark future
hides in the barrel
of the guns in this
tune-less accordion —

surely, ours;

and I fear the sounds
grow ever louder, never
fainter —

Will it ever cease
into peace?

Or will the bullet travel faster
by the hour?

Why is it that power only finds
its home in violence, and never
in understanding –

Such silence

Peace (writing it out),
Kevin

 

 

#writeout #whyiwrite: Celebrating Teacher Writers in a Historical Place

We were inside. We were outside. We read texts. We wrote stories, and poems, and critiques, and journal entries. For the National Day on Writing, we hosted 18 educators at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and invited them to explore the past and write with us.

Here are the series of writing prompts we provided as suggestions for the different spaces within the Armory Museum and exhibits:

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

#WriteOut: Making Connections to ‘The Wartime Sisters’

NOTE: For a writing marathon/party this afternoon, to celebrate Write Out and the National Day on Writing, we’ll be using excerpts from this historical fiction novel to inspire writing of participants. — Kevin

Reading The Wartime Sisters as someone who has been doing educational consulting work for the Springfield Armory National Historic Site for the past three years makes for an interesting web of connections to place and story.

Novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman, who grew up here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, notes in her Author Notes that, like many of us who live here (including me), the Springfield Armory is often a forgotten part of our region’s history.

It has only been through many visits and by running summer camps for Springfield students and facilitating professional development for teachers through a partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory that I have come to more deeply appreciate the impact the Armory had had on this region, and also, on the country itself. Today, it is a museum. In its heyday, it was a manufacturing and innovative hub, one of two national armories (the other is in Harper’s Ferry).

The Wartime Sisters story is centered around two sisters whose complicated relationship and lives, and tragedies, revolve around the Springfield Armory in the time of World War II, when the Armory facilities were in highest gear with thousands of employees and a mandate by the government to produce more and more weapons. It’s also when women and immigrants flocked to the area for work, and for patriotic ideals, as a way to help the soldiers fighting overseas.

I’ve toured many of the old Armory buildings where the action takes place — including the Armory Commander’s house, now vacant and needing repair but still, with vestiges of the position the owners once held. I’ve walked through some of the manufacturing buildings, although many are now part of a community college. I’ve seen photographs of the gardens, the water fountains, even the swimming pool. We’ve taken students to the high elevation grassy overlook, the one that looks out over Springfield, where a huge and important concert takes place in the book. Armory Curator Alex MacKenzie, who helped Loigman with her research and spent time with her, has done presentations with our student and teacher programs.

And we’ve done whole units with students and teachers on the role of women in the Armory, and the way the war transformed society through work at the facility, bringing change to the communities even after the men returned home to reclaim their jobs. Like Loigman, I have listened to the oral history recordings of some of those women, and felt moved by their narratives. Also like Loigman, we have used the Armory’s own newsletter archives to tell the stories of the people, of where they came from, and how they lived their lives with the Armory at its center.

I would have enjoyed this book on its own merits, as a character study of two sisters and a community of women at a certain historical period of time. But the grounding of the Springfield Armory as the setting of the book, as a site with deep roots, made the reading of the book even more enriching for me. Loigman surfaces the stories of the people, using history as the door to show compassion and intrigue.

For a lover of books and of local history, what more can one ask?

Wartime Sisters passages

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

An interview with Loigman:

Why I Write Collaboratively

Why I Write Collaboratively

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, and as part of Write Out, I’ve been working with more than 100 fellow writers on a sprawling, beautiful collaborative poem based on George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem. As more and more lines were submitted by more and more people, I kept wondering: Now what I have gotten myself into?

But I’ve been here before, managing large online writing collaborations, and each time, at the end, the pieces that emerge have always startled me, the way so many voices can be woven together into something approaching art. Collaborative pieces — I’ve been part of radio shows, of plays, of poems, of stories — are full of wrinkles, full of voices, and finding the thread that runs through the collaborators is tricky.

For the Where We’re From collaboration, with hundreds of lines of poems, the trick has been to find themes and shift lines around to approach coherence. When read through, the Write Out collaborative poem takes on a new shape, one of US writing together as a single poet with a multiverse voice. We’ll be sharing the text of the poem this weekend, and then I am starting an invitation to folks to record audio pieces of the poem, which then I will – gulp – edit together into one large audio piece.

Anyway, for the National Day on Writing, which has the theme of “Why I Write” again, I thought about the question: Why Do I Write Collaboratively?

WHY I WRITE COLLABORATIVELY

Writing can be a lonely adventure. Oh sure, you can create characters to crowd your head. You can write scenes of noise. But the act of writing? You’re on your own, for the most part. Which is why I love to write collaboratively with other people. When you are working on the creation of a piece of art in a shared space — even when you trade coherence for chaos — there’s something wonderful that emerges — a different angle to what writing is, and how we tell stories. Collaboration requires flexibility, conversation, revision unlike any other. You are reminded that you are part of something larger in the world.

Peace (shared),
Kevin

PS — NCTE is hosting a neat digital badge-maker for NDOW — Go to their site and submit one yourself

NDOW Badge for whyiwrite

Curating the #WriteOut Twitter Chat

Write Out Twitter Chat

Last night, Write Out project hosted a wide-ranging Twitter Chat about place and stories, and hosts Amber and Bethany did a fantastic job. If you missed it, I used Wakelet to gather as many of the strands as I could, trying to connect some of the threads, as best as I could.

Go to the Chat Archive

Peace (in curation),
Kevin

#WriteOut: Exploring the History of the Neighborhood

Although the Write Out project (now underway for the next two weeks) is supported by the National Park Service, through a partnership with the National Writing Project, there is no mandate that you have to explore a park. Not many of us have a National Park nearby.
That’s OK.
Your backyard or school yard or city block or neighborhood will work just fine. Here, I created a small digital piece about surfacing the stories of the past of my small village neighborhood. I created it in SoundSlides, and you can go there directly if you want to see my piece.
Peace (in the walk around the block),
Kevin