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

Hanging Out in #WriteOut to Talk about Place, Stories and Writing

I took on the role of host last night for the first Video Chat for the Write Out project now underway. Along with some facilitators and participants who have been sharing work and planning/hosting live events, we invited Catherine Stier, author of the picture book If I Were a Park Ranger. Our conversation touched on a lot of topics, from uncovering stories of places, to the role of National Parks in society, to primary source databases, to how we might inspire ourselves and our students to write.

Tomorrow night (Thursday) is the first Twitter Chat, starting at 7 p.m. EST with the #writeout hashtag. Come join in further conversation on the topic of “discovering stories.” More information about Write Out and live events is available at the website.

Peace (talking it through),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Visiting the Woods of Vermont for #Writeout

(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.)

With the start of the Write Out project, getting outside to observe the world has been on the list. Yesterday, my wife surprised my youngest son and I with one of her “magical mystery tours” in which she doesn’t tell us where we’re headed until we get there.

Yesterday, it was an hour or so north, up to Brattleboro, Vermont. We had hoped the Autumn foliage would be more brilliant than here, in Western Massachusetts, but that actually wasn’t the case. There’s more green to the north than here, which was sort of disappointing, but the drive was beautiful, and our hike along the Sunrise Trail loop through Fort Dummer State Park in late afternoon was lovely.

Since “discovering stories” is a theme of Write Out, I did a little research on the Fort Dummer State Park. It was one of the first settlements and was built in 1724 with an overlook of the Connecticut River. Soldiers there, along with Mohawk Indians, protected the area from the French and other tribes.

Later, I had this idea of a music composition running around in my head, inspired by our hike through the woods, so I spent some time, creating the soundtrack — I call it Woodlines — and then used SoundSlides to put the music with the images from our walk in the woods.

Peace (in light and color),
Kevin

 

#WriteOut Picture Book Review: If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier

Kevin’s NOTE: Author Catherine Stier, who wrote this picture book, is going to be a featured guest on the Write Out video chat on Tuesday night, Oct. 15,  from 7-8 p.m. EST. More information about the chat and how you can join us in Zoom, if you want, is available at the Write Out website (look under Scheduled Events category).

I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time in the past few years with National Park Service rangers through collaborative projects (including running youth summer camps at the Springfield Armory Historic Site) and let me tell you, they are some of the nicest, most curious, adventuresome folks I have mingled with.

One of my ranger friends from Connecticut’s Weir Farm National Historic Site recommended If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier for our work with the Write Out Project (which launched yesterday, and runs in conjunction with the National Day on Writing next Sunday), and I really appreciated this picture book, and I find it a perfect fit for most elementary classrooms.

Stier captures the work of those folks who greet visitors and who sustain the National Park system, itself a wonder of both open spaces and urban history. In this picture book, readers learn about the many ways one might come to work for the National Park Service, and what a typical day might be if you were a ranger. With lively and inviting artwork from Patrick Corrigan, If I Were a Park Ranger will inform, educate and invite you to explore the many spaces around you (and not just park service spaces, either, but city blocks and suburban fields and woods).

The picture book aptly represents all of the many facets of historical artifacts connected to spaces, ecological and environmental awareness, public ownership of public lands, and the ways in which visitors and those working for the National Park Service are partners in preservation of lands and stories.

These topics, and more, are all central to the Write Out project now underway this October, connecting writing and history to place-based learning and connected opportunities for students and teachers. Learn more about Write Out (it’s free!) and sign up for information and news about the project at the website.

Peace (exploring it),
Kevin

 

#WriteOut: Giving Kids A Camera In Order to Capture The Wild

As the Write Out project kicks off today (and goes for the next two weeks, with the National Day on Writing right in the middle of it all), I wanted to share out a project I have had underway for a few weeks now, in which my sixth grade students have been going about their small suburban town “capturing the wild” with photographs. We aim to use the photos as part of a connection with another school, and for some writing this week.

You can view my podcast video here (via SoundSlides)

Peace (thinking it through),
Kevin