What does it mean to be a global citizen? How do you build a community of young people from around the world? How do you share your identity, culture and stories from home to push against stereotypes? What does a global community look like, and how do we nurture it when we return home.
The International Poetry Exchange Project was founded by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in 2014 as a way to build bridges for students around the world. As a founding partner, DreamYard partnered with schools across the Bronx to write poems, create performances and eventually compete in an international poetry slam. As a community, we have traveled to Japan, Korea and the United States. Currently we work with four schools: Marble Hill School for International Studies in the Bronx, New York, Poongsan High School in Andong, Korea, St. Scholastica in Manila, Philippines and Shuri High School in Okinawa, Japan.
Last week we traveled to Tokyo and Okinawa in Japan for a 10 day journey that included: The Imperial Palace, the Tokyo-Edo Museum, Okinawa World, the Peace Memorial, a visit to Okinawa University to watch the Eisa dance, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, Asakusa and lectures about Japan at the Ministry of Foreign Exchange and at the Peace Memorial. In addition, the students spent two nights in a homestay in Okinawa with local families where they cooked together, visited the beach and learned about local traditions. We also visited Shuri High School for a bingata workshop and had a poetry and performance workshop before our final poetry competition held high atop Okinawa. The trip was transformative for all of us - expanding our hearts and shaping our worldview.
Recipe for International Poetry Exchange
Gather 40 young poets from around the world. Watch
languages & hearts & stories & identities collide, shine.
Hear their traveling of mother tongues
Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, Spanish, English, Soninke
& on. How they all sound like song & invocation.
See them slurp noodles, sample sushi, drink broth from deep bowls.
Watch them swallow the sea, ache from the lists & lists of names
carved into stone at the Peace Memorial. Weep with them
when they share sorrows, see the shards of war. Ourselves.
Bow your head in prayer at Asakusa & the Meiji Shrine.
Stand beside shisas that ward off evils. Learn traditions
the Eisa dance & bingata at Shuri High School. The art
of dyeing, the patience of weaving. Watch cultures inter-
twine & shift alive. Witness shared poetry of longing
& immigration & song & gods & cranes & new worlds.
Revel in their high school after party of Cupid Shuffle,
Gangnam Style & K Pop ballads. They community so hard.
Ask them what they love & they will yell out:
myself & non-crease sneakers & carbs & drawing
& the moon, moon, & anime & R & B, books & sleep.
Ask them what they don’t love & they will call out:
war & stereotypes & sweating & mosquitos
the president (of the US & the Philippines both)
& they will hold their hands out to each other in comfort.
& they will say homework & diarrhea & they will howl in laughter.
Because they are all teenage-ish & grown & young at the same time.
Ask them their names & they will shout them
while shaking their whole bodies: Alondra & Hawa
& Aicha & Fukumura & Ace & Angelica & Lian
& Sungmin & Hyeongseok - their names like prayers
rising into the setting Okinawan sun.
An untangling of letters & histories & place.
Say landscape & watch the streets unravel
& all the salt in the sea wash to shore. This
is how we are one. The only thing that stands
between us is the ocean, Fatou says & you know
she is right. & when Jason says, There are no borders.
there’s only our humanity, you all say yes, yes, yes!
Have them hold hands & conjure words
like: promise, hope, inspiration, community, love.
Say them again & louder & echo what they need
& want in this world. Watch them cry heavy tears
when they leave, lean deep out of bus windows. Carry on
& on. See how they hold. Watch their connections root down.
See their community rise up.
The act of writing, dancing & making art. Community gathering, gathering folks from across the country. To the west coast, to health & healing. To the bay & beyond.
Department Directors @ The DreamYard Project
Ask a Poet: Ellen Hagan
This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.
For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Ellen Hagan.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry, Hemisphere, was published by Northwestern University Press, Spring 2015. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found on ESPNW.com, in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crowned was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. She is Director of Poetry & Theatre Programs at DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan and South Korea. Ellen is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women, and is co-founder of the girlstory collective. She lives with her husband and daughters in New York City.
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What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
There is a big misconception out there that you can’t make a living being a poet, or that you will go broke following the path of poetry. That’s simply not true. The poets I know curate their lives in beautiful and thrilling ways. They travel the world, they craft brilliant collections of poetry, they teach in community centers, colleges, they edit books, they jump genres and write novels, screenplays, young adult books. They have families, they have massive communities – they make their work. It is possible to do what you love and be both financially and creatively successful. You just have to create the best path for you – and figure out the kind of life you want – and how to build that vision. It’s all possible!
What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
I absolutely loved poetry in high school. I went to the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts – a summer arts intensive program, and was taught by my mentor, and now friend: Kelly Norman Ellis, who exposed all of us to poets such as: The Affrilachian Poets, Nikky Finney, June Jordan and Jayne Cortez, to name a few. We were exposed to poetry as a way to define our identity, a way to speak back to the world, confront injustices, write our hearts, craft what mattered most to us, and do the work. My high school experience was transformative because of poetry. I always say it saved me. It gave me a home to harness all of my feelings – it gave me the space to explore who I was and who I wanted to be in the world.
Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?
Read and travel and celebrate life. I think the best way to engage with poetry is to witness it all around us. Poetry is on our bus routes, on the train, in the cup of coffee we order at the diner. It’s hanging out after school, it follows us home. It dances and spins – poetry can be found everywhere, so it’s just finding new ways for young people to open their eyes – and finding ways to capture that spirit and energy – with words.
Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?
Lower Broadway! I did a Dodge Poet visit to Barringer STEAM High School in April, and walked from the train station. I ended up on Lower Broadway early in the morning, and was blown away by all of the brilliant murals on the gates covering the stores. There was so much joy and celebration – such color and expression. The whole city feels energized and alive to me. I love that Newark supports the arts – and they have a way to honor that in such a real and vivid way.
What are you currently reading?
I just re-read The Panther and the Lash by Langston Hughes. I used it years ago to find poems for a 2nd grade residency through The Community~Word Project, and saw it again. I wanted to revisit those poems. I also recently joined the board of the I, Too Arts Collective, a non-profit based in the home of Langston Hughes, founded by Renée Watson. I love being in Langston’s House – there is such brilliant creative energy there! It’s such a perfect home for poets and artists. I also recently read Beasts Behave in Foreign Land by Ruth Irupé Sanabría. She’s such a lyrical and socially engaged poet. Her collections stay with me – I can’t wait to teach some of the poems during the school year.
Ellen Hagan & Renée Watson have signed a deal with Bloomsbury for a YA novel. The YA collaboration with Hagan (which will be Hagan’s YA debut), Write Like a Girl, is set for spring 2019. Bloomsbury said Girl is “a dual narrative about best friends, one black and one white, who are classmates at a progressive New York City high school” where they start a school blog that goes viral. Rosemary Stimola at the Stimola Literary Studio represented Watson in the deal, and Cindy Uh at the Thompson Literary Agency represented Hagan.
The I, Too Arts Collective is a non-profit organization founded by Renée Watson, committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts. In July 2016, she launched an online fundraising campaign to lease the brownstone where Langston lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. The #LangstonsLegacy campaign raised over $150,000 and secured a three-year lease. Hundreds of people from all over the world supported the campaign. It was truly a collective effort, and now it’s time for the real work to begin. Check out more here: www.itooarts.com
Happy Poetry Month! I have been writing a poem a day & wanted to post some of the new work. We are working on media literacy with the Bronx Poetry Project & we spent some time analyzing magazine covers - what a wild world we entered. So much madness. Hope you enjoy.
Found Poem #1
You won’t be able to stop checking out your butt, but
be brave this year. This year look Hot! Hot! Hot!
in your jeans. Girls Gone Wild (for less). Less
is more. More is more. But how far must a girl go
to get his attention? Hot Abs. Hot Arms. Hot Thighs
How far must a girl go? His attention? How hot hot
hot is his attention – girl. Get Instagram Instaglam. Oh!
Fashion, beauty & body tricks. Tricks of the beauty trade—
Bikini Body Confidence. Blitz. Glitz. Gutz. Butz & Bendz.
Slutz & Steady Glamor. Sexy cuts. Sexy tone. Sexy sexy
sexy sexy sexy sexy. Sexy. Amazing shine. Shine & get
the guy. Get flat abs. Fast. Get major confidence. Get:
Gutted. Get: Guilty. Get: Major stressors. Get smooth
skin fast. Get 625 pretty looks for YOU. Party hair. Party
skin. Party boobs. Party bod. 763 fashion tips & beauty
tricks. Boost your bra size in one month. Boost your hot
flat abs. Boost your confidence. Boost your mood w/
659 new luscious lip colors. Learn to kiss. Sexy like.
This issue is for YOU.
This issue is for YOU—
Is this issue
for YOU? Who
is this issue for?
To all the birds painted & all their wings. To the decades long friendships & all the poems. To new collections, drinks on rooftops, lime, lobster rolls on the beach, sunshine, sand. So thankful for the time. For all the words & all the ways to say them.
To this trip I will never forget. Here's the start to a new poem:
To the shark fin on the bullet train from Sendai to Tokyo -
How ocean you are. How deep dark sea scrawl, belly crawl how you taste of raw & helpless, how you lapse & drape, thwap the whole of your boneless accordion around my tongue. How you sidle & meander rock loose & let flap. How you must have held memory, a rollicking jut of salt & sand. Each waves' buoyant frolic towards hunger & then sate. How you never expected the hook,
All you knew then was swim. Eat or get eaten. & all the time I am thinking that those of us on land
are doing the exact
This partnership started nearly three years ago to create a global exchange between poets in Japan and the U.S. Currently we have over 30 students in South Korea, Japan and the U.S. all sharing poetry & who they are. On the final days of the trip we visited the Tohoku region, site of the tsunami that devasted the area nearly five years ago. We visited a local high school to share poetry as a way to heal. Renée Watson brought her gorgeous book - A Place Where Hurricanes Happen & we shared our collective future together. The poetry transformed the room. Started the healing process. How poetry grounds & connects us. & it does!
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy held a beautiful reception at the Embassy & toasted our young poets. Here they are posing for the camera & loving getting to know each other. They also performed at the Literary Festival & we got the chance to see Poetry Boxing in action at Tsukuba Elementary. Also got to teach a performance workshop to all the students with the brilliant Renée Watson. Warm-up games, songs, intro silliness & emotional car ride. The poets were awesome!
Welome to Japan. See the city this way - with young poets from NYC & Tokyo & South Korea & Okinawa. Watch their thrill & see your own. Watch the way the words unwind. Capture every possible moment. Be awake, alert. You won't want to forget.
All down home. All North Limestone & family. All radical spaces & love. All brilliant students who are grown. All the wildest of figs. All fried green tomatoes, cheese grits, biscuits & gravy. All bell hooks & Gloria Steinem secret events. All in awe of Crystal Wilkinson & all the community she continues to build & build. All crock pots of chili at Madison Southern. Lord, it all makes me feel so home. Can't wait to get back. Love!
This poet life - all Texas, Amanda Johnston, Parneshia Jones, lakes & late lunches.
Grisham Middle School visit - poeting about bra shopping & French kissing.
Shots & Pilsner
Back to DreamYard this week & witness to such a brilliant & genius borough. Glad to be back in the Bronx. Feels like home.
I feel honored to be a part of this incredibly moving project. Please click the link below to read the poem, & find more info on the project.
Lament for the Dead is an online community poetry project which will mark the death of every person killed by police this summer, and every police officer who loses life in the line of duty, with a poem.
The first lie that hate tells us is that any other person is not as human as we are. This project resists that lie by recognizing each other’s humanity, even in the most difficult places.
Lexington, my love.