Monday, July 29, 2013

Writopia's NYC Children's Poetry Festival at the 3rd Annual NYC Poetry Festival

By Lily Gellman

Writopia Lab authors/instructors and interns ferried out to Governor's Island to run the annual children's poetry event on both Saturday and Sunday, and it was an absolute blast! Young adult author Jordana Frankel spun poetry gardens and origami poetry tents and more; it was incredible to be so much a part of the creative magic there.

Sam, Writopia intern, sets up at one of our three poetry stations. 

The Children's Festival area was across from the White Horse and next to Spontaneous Generation House. In this area, Writopia hosted four main stations. We set up one called Blackout Poetry, one called Origami Prompt Poetry, Group Poetry, and an additional one called Five Senses Poetry. Young poets creating blackout poetry took pages recycled from existing literature, and carefully selected which words to omit -- to "black out" -- and which to keep and thus transform into an entirely new piece out of old words.

Meanwhile, upon finishing their poems, origami-minded poets would fold their works into paper tulips and plant them in the adjacent Poetry Garden.

                                                       Kids' Finished Origami Poetry Tulips

And just a few steps away at the third station, kids enjoyed such exercises meant to stimulate descriptions from all five of their senses such as picking a random object out of a box and describing it, without ever fully revealing what the object was. In additional prompts poems asked themselves what the color red might smell like, and tried waxing poetic from the perspective of a missing cat.

New poet works on a blackout poem.

One of the most wonderful parts of the station setup overseen by our staff and interns was that it allowed even young people who had never explored poetry before to create. One five-year-old girl who had not yet had the chance to develop her reading and writing skills to the point of independent composition dictated her poem to a Writopia intern. The girl's older sister later took the poem that the intern had written down, and performed it before an audience of the whole festival.

We also witnessed powerful work from our returning poets -- so much that it would be impossible to describe all of it. Both Annelie and Marin H. read wonderfully, Annelie reading her favorite, "Don't Read So Much." Jack R. performed a poem that Asya, one of our interns, described simply as "one of the most beautiful spoken word pieces I've ever heard from anyone ever." Rebecca read aloud from one of Maxanne's poems about love and pancakes. And Simone wrote about truth and how Writopia was one of the only spaces she felt taken seriously, saying, "Writopia made me like writing when school didn't." Kids wrote about relationships, and who we are as individuals to the rest of the world, and beautifully poignant subjects.

One writer reads aloud from her piece, glowing.

Writopia poets old and new also had fun writing and performing in a group poetry section. Poets would workshop their pieces together, and every 20 or 30 minutes new poets would get up on our own Writopia mini-stage to share. Nearby, we hosted a reading tent with blankets on the ground for kids who wanted to relax and listen for a while, read each other's art, picture books, and a smattering of more well-known works as well. The whole atmosphere was enriched by the ever-present backdrop of spoken word poetry, and the context of joining together with so many other schools and organizations in this shared love.

Rebecca shares poetry with two more young poets.

At the end of the day, Writopians took to the big stage to read at Algonquin Stage over on the other side of the fest. This meant reading and performing not just for the Writopia group, but for the festival-goers at large! From families to adult poets without kids in tow, the broader community of listeners there was super supportive and appreciative of our kids' work.

Afterwards, most of us left at the end of the day at 5pm, but some of us were so enchanted that we stayed until the gloaming hour.

Many poets working side by side on their creations

A huge thank-you to Jordana who coordinated the whole thing, hand-painted signs, billowing and fabric-festooned tents, overall Burning Man-esque decor, and all! And another enormous thank-you to Rebecca, Jeremy, Danielle, Taylor, Sam, Asya, Angelica, Rachel C-S, Rachel B. and the many staff and interns who made Writopia's presence at the event possible.

We will definitely be back next year! In the meantime, we have plenty of inspiration to tide us over. Time to finish up this post and write a poem with the prompt: first word "salty," last word "hopeful."

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