10th Annual Creative Journey Concludes
March 14, 2019
So here I sit, typing with one hand and shoving chocolate into my face with the other in an attempt to console myself, now that this year's Intergenerational Writing Workshop, has ended.
This 10th annual collaboration between senior volunteers and sixth-graders from Turning Point School took place on six Wednesday mornings starting Jan. 23 and concluding March 6, four at the Culver City Senior Center and two at the school. Jill Thomsen, Volunteer Specialist, was the senior center's liaison.
There were 42 students. The teachers who led each table were Stephanie Grissom, Marc Braunstein, Josh Lesser, Diana Bender, and Whitney Gallagher, who also organized the meetings. Senior volunteers were Marilyn Russell, Peggy Cullinane, Ilene Cohen, Barbara Lever, Lynn Appel, Asha Greenberg, Lee Quiring, Steve O'Donnell, and myself. I was paired with Steve, a first-timer and excellent poet and artist. The bright and engaging students at my table, led by Ms. Grissom, were Lily, Augie, Elosha, Miles, Conor, Sienna, Charlotte, and Ethan.
This year's workshop focused on poetry. Each week we learned a poetic device, and for homework wrote about a moment that shaped us. We read our poems at the following meeting as a way to learn from and about one another through poetry.
FIRST MEETING: We all shared a little about ourselves. The seniors had been instructed in advance to create a metaphor by completing the sentence "Life is (blank)." Mine was "the golden buzzer" and Steve's was "a blank canvas." A friend that I told about this, a staunch romantic, came up with "spaghetti and meatballs," inspired by the iconic scene in Lady and the Tramp. This exercise has been a great conversation starter!
We read "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost, reviewed the use of metaphors and figurative language (simile, hyperbole, alliteration, etc.), and discussed making choices, leading to our homework assignment: Write a poem about a choice you had to make in life, including a metaphor and another form of figurative language.
SECOND MEETING: We read "Advice" by Dan Gerber and "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes, and discussed the advice given by the parent figures in the poems. Our homework was to write a poem that includes advice to a specific person or people, advice that can be from you to someone, or someone to you or to a group of people.
THIRD MEETING: We read "I, Too" by Langston Hughes and "Hanging Fire" by Audre Lorde, both dealing with issues of race in America although written over 50 years apart. Our homework was to write a poem addressing themes of injustice, not being seen or heard, standing up for yourself, etc. It could be about something we witnessed or experienced.
FOURTH MEETING: With Valentine's Day imminent, we read poems inspired by love: "Chocolate" by Rita Dove and "How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. For homework we were to write a love poem that could be about familial love involving a relative, pet or friend; romantic love or longing; the idea of love; or a memory filled with love or lack of love.
Marilyn, a repeat volunteer and former table partner, later told me that her poem about love "was about how to tell if someone really loves you. The teacher then mentioned that they had had a segment in class about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to recognize unhealthy relationships, like someone who puts you down. Isn't that wonderful that they are teaching this in the sixth grade, and wouldn't it be great if no one had to learn this the hard way?"
FIFTH MEETING: As examples of false apology, we read "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams and poems by Kenneth Koch and Gail Carson Levine in the same style. As I'm accustomed to writing long narrative poems that rhyme, this homework assignment was challenging as it required using the format of the original poems with very short lines and stanzas, the final stanza starting "Forgive Me." We were to write two apology poems, one from our point of view and to a specific audience and the other from the point of view of a fictional character, celebrity or other figure.
SIXTH MEETING: We read "Your Catfish Friend" by Richard Brautigan and discussed what it says about friendship and mutual support. As it was our final meeting for the year, it was casual and fun, with the students quizzing Steve and me about our lives and getting a question or two in return. There were snacks for all and flowers for the seniors, a thoughtful touch.
In order to provide a taste of our work, I present a "found" poem that I created by selecting lines from some of our poems:
A manipulative emotion
Love is a waiting game
Love is a marathon
It's a close call
Listen, listen for an answer
Yes spread your wings out
Don't let go of your dreams
Beautiful designs appear
In the kaleidoscope of my life
I made someone happy
In here I am safe. In this place I am me
The sun shone and the clouds receded
Love is the breeze on a hot summer day
The blossom scent caresses me
It gives me a burst of energy
Love is simple
Sometimes love can just mean caring for everything
When I asked Steve his impressions of this workshop, he replied, "I found that the students possessed a level of maturity and inquisitiveness, yet at the same time I could still see the child in them. This made sharing our poems with each other very rewarding. As one of the students quoted, 'PogChamp!'"
As for me, here are some thoughts I'll share:
I look forward to these workshops where we create
Our very own literary fare
And I feel so lucky just to be there
As it's always such a treat to meet
And occasionally quite revelatory too,
Per this anecdote I'll now relate to you.
At our first meeting this January I mentioned
That I was a cartoonist. That got their attention
And one girl who's interested in anime asked
That I describe the steps that went into the task
Of creating my cartoons. Accordingly, I told
About using carbon paper. Oh my God, I felt so old
When, with puzzled eyes, they stared at me
Because, you see,
"Carbon paper" is terminology
That's foreign to their vocabulary.
When I recovered from my shock I realized
(And this should come as no surprise)
That there's a valuable service we elders can perform
As we're time machines with knowledge outside their norm.
It's also a two-way street for seniors, which is really swell
Since I learned about words like PogChamp that kids use as well
And along with writing free verse and poems that rhyme,
We all got to dream and travel in time.
Until next year . . .