St. Luke’s church is lemon yellow inside with afternoon pouring through the side doors in the classroom on the floor below the chapel where we gather. The adults smile and welcome us with a tray of mugs of hot tea. We carry in boxes, loose-leaf copies of writing exercises, bound and stacked varieties of paper, passion. The kids range from tiny babies with their young mothers, to first grade boys kicking and leaping into new seats, to female high school seniors, lip-glossed and texting. They fidget, curious, perhaps a little resistant to school-like functions or intimidated to share creative exercises, but all are perceivably excited. The room hums with invisible corkscrews of possibility.
On Sunday, April 13th, poet volunteers and Sudanese-American youth spend a warm afternoon trying what it feels like to jump into a room together and start dancing. Poet volunteers and Sudanese youth alike bring ideas, experiences, and expectations.
We begin with sitting, chatting, and organizing a group warm-up exercise. It feels disjointed. It feels fluid and alive. I come in unaware I’m thinking: this is what Sudanese people are like. The Sudanese youth likely come in thinking: this is what American poets are like. The reality to our romanticized idea of sharing poetry is actually its greatest beauty. It’s a little bit messy. It’s a collaboration, like jazz music or basketball — fluid and alive. It takes a flexible and jovial approach to jump into the room and start dancing with one another. We do not arrive with the gospel of poetry. We are meeting our partners in the middle to encourage poetry to happen.
A few favorites to highlight the afternoon:
Each poet volunteer brought a unique window into poetry in the form of an exercise, be it the poetry of creating food, to the poetry of objects in dialogue with one another, to ekphrastic poems written to images or from dreams. One favorite though was as simple as making a poem from the acronym of our names. Accessible and engaging, it got everyone warmed up and writing. Here is my try, with input from the second-graders sitting beside me:
Jackpot like a squirrel’s nest of acorns in the leaves
Excellent like a tiger on the hunt
Nonchalant like water running off
Noise-making mockingbird who melodies midnight
Infinite like light
Finite like life
Enters & exits
Favorite lines by a young SAYA poet:
ABCD like you can’t see me / Queen of my own territory / Like caramel in the sky
A tiny girl, likely around two years old and not quite two feet tall, delighted us all between the escapes under the table from her young mother. Her peels and squeals (and smiling destruction of the poem in front of her, one shred at a time) inspired this poem note:
one tiny girl shreds
poems and smiles
she makes cakes
of laughter on all
our imaginary plates
we read and snap and her
pipes spin one after another
high pink ribbon of yes
her sharp-edged yet satin
lash of approval
Poetry spans not only time but also the imagined borders we perceive between cultures and countries. PICO provides a space for this bridge in our own little city, embracing the fluid space between the practice of the art of poetry in the university and the international communities within San Diego at large. We share poetry: a common language no matter what tongue it takes.