An Interview with the Founder of “The Yellow Chair Review”

By Jenuine Poetess

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Frances Moran, founder & editor Yellow Chair Review, Waco’s own Art & Literary Journal.

Jenuine Poetess (JP): Tell me about yourself and how you got into writing.

sara m

(Sarah Frances Moran; photo courtesy SFM)

Sarah Frances Moran (SFM): I’m a native Houstonian. I began seriously writing around the age of fifteen. I always had a love for reading and for song lyrics, and my writing came out of a desire to replicate what I enjoyed and also out of desire to express my feelings. You know fifteen-year-olds have lots of feelings.

Without writing I’d probably be in a bad place. Some people sometimes say that it’s therapy and they’re not completely off base. If I didn’t have this outlet I’d have a stockpile of crazy things stored up in my head.

I always kept my writing to myself or to those closest to me. It never occurred to me to put it out there for the public. I have always attended open mic readings and always sat in the back quietly listening. This past September I attended Waco’s Wordfest and most specifically the 100thousand Artists for Change readings. I met ITWOW ([In The Words of Women) Founder Jenuine [Poetess] at that reading and began attending the ITWOW writing group on Monday nights. That outlet opened the door for me to become comfortable sharing my work. I began participating in open mic readings and also began sending out my work for publication. It’s been a crazy year. I’ve had 57 poems (and counting) published in 34 publications. I’ve even dabbled in some memoir writing and have had a few stories published. It’s been a rollercoaster. This venture into the publishing world fueled my desire to start my own literary arts magazine and that’s how Yellow Chair Review came to be.

I could go on for days about setbacks, but they aren’t important. I think it’s important to be resilient, to look ahead and to focus on goals however small or large they are.

JP: How did you get interested in publishing? Tell us about the journey from idea to where you are now?

SFM: I ran a little literary journal when I was in High School that I would send out via email. It was at the dawn of the internet (giving away my age a bit) before blogs and the boom of the online literary world. It was a small email compiled of writing by friends and acquaintances I’d met online. I was also the editor of the school literary magazine. I’ve always had the desire to do that again, and after sending out my own work to a myriad of places I began seeing patterns of things I wanted to do better. I’m certainly under no illusions that I’ve done anything revolutionary with Yellow Chair Review. I simply wanted to create a space for writers and artists that is diverse and approachable. There’s elitism everywhere, and there’s a ton of elitism in the literary world. I don’t want YCR to ever be that.

So I sat down and wrote the pros and cons of doing this (I’m a serious list maker) and determined the pros outweighed the cons. I wanted to make sure this was something I do properly and do in a way that made folks proud to have their work be a part of it.

JP: Where did the name Yellow Chair Review come from?

yellow chair bannerSFM: A poem of course! I wrote a poem in high school titled Yellow Chair. It’s a strange poem dealing with some heavy stuff I was going through at the time. I had this long list of name options. It was almost the Olive Ridley Review. I love sea turtles. Iva, my partner in life and with the review, preferred Yellow Chair.

JP: How is it going compared to your hopes/expectations?

SFM: It is vastly blasting away my hopes/expectations. I thought I’d have to beg for submissions. I thought it would be a slow progression. It has taken off like a rocket. The submissions have been pouring in, and I’ve had to add staff! I never thought I’d have to ask for help. I could definitely be the one to read all of the submissions and do all the work, but I’ve always wanted YCR to be a space that is prompt. One of the things I hate the most about submitting work is the waiting and waiting and waiting. I don’t want submitters to wait long to hear from us. So I’ve enlisted help so that you get that 1-2 day turn around.

JP: What are some future projects/plans you have for YCR?

SFM: We’ve just added two new features to YCR. We’re going to start accepting submissions of Reviews and we’ll start conducting interviews with contributors. The biggest project I’m planning is a Chapbook contest. I don’t have the details etched out 100% yet. I know for sure I want to do a Poetry Chapbook contest. I’d considered also doing a fiction Chapbook contest too, but I don’t know about it yet. More information about that will hopefully be available by September.

JP: Why is it important to you to create an arts & literary journal? What role does it play in the arts community at large and in Waco?

collage

(visual art by Debangana Banerjee; used with permission here and published in YCR, Issue 3)

SFM: I think it’s important to create space. I’ve read a lot of essays and articles about how there are too many literary journals out there and you shouldn’t add to the pile unless you have something extremely unique to bring to the table. I disagree. I think if you’re staying true to the work, to the contributors and doing your best to promote their writing/art you’re doing a huge service to the literary arts community. So many voices go unheard for so many reasons. So create space that helps voices be heard, and do all you can to get those voices out there.

I don’t know that it’s fully doing this yet, but I want YCR to be a space that can say it harbors voices from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all sorts of ideologies, philosophies, races, sexes, orientations, languages etc. Waco itself is more than the majority we see everywhere. I want those underrepresented voices to give YCR the chance to showcase them. Waco has a rich variety of people. YCR can work as a catalyst for those voices.

JP: How can Waco support your work?

SFM: Submitting! I know there are so many poets, writers, and artists in our community, and I would truly love to see their works in YCR. I would love to be able to say that YCR is supportive of the community it’s created in. I can’t say that though if folks don’t give it the chance! So please submit your writings and visual artwork.

Donating! I hate asking for money, but if anyone out there wants to throw donations our way it would be a huge help. Right now YCR is costing my household money, and I don’t mind but it limits what I can do for our contributors. With donations the Chapbook contests can get kickstarted sooner, and we’ll be able to give more in terms of contest winnings. That’s the hugest monetary goal right now. Getting the funds to publish Chapbooks. (You can donate by visiting YCR’s GoFundMe campaign here!)

Reading! Check out the latest issue of YCR via Issuu here.

JP: What else would you like us to know about your work as a poet and as a publisher?

SFM: That I’m here.   That I plan to keep myself immersed in this community on a local level and on an international level. That all of our words, our creations, our feelings and thoughts are worthy of having space. That I want to do all that I can to offer that space.

Get Involved!

  • yellow chair woodenTo learn more about the submission guidelines and schedule, please click here.   To learn more about Sarah and her poetry, please visit her website here. Two blogs to follow are the YCR blog and the Rock the Chair blog, check them out! In September, Sarah will be hosting a workshop on Publishing and Editing at the 2015 WCAF WordFest; join us!
  • WordFest Anthology Call for Submissions – accepting entries of poetry and prose now through August 31, 2015. Please visit here for complete details, entry fees, and submission guidelines.
  • Central Texas Artist Collective is inviting a statement of intent to participate in the 100 Thousand Artists for Change visual exhibit on Saturday September 26, 2015. Details here.

Waco has a rich array of museums, symphony, theater, community band, arts, and cultural activities. To check out the options, please visit Creative Waco!


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: j[email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

Creating: getting started & moving through dry spells

By Jenuine Poetess

Here at the Act Locally Waco Arts & Culture blog we muse often about events, programs, the value of arts and cultural activities and the inclusion of creative health as a matter of justice along side employment, education, hunger initiatives, and other aspects of cultivating a sustainable community.   Hopefully, something here has inspired some of you to pick up your own instrument, pen, brush, or tool-of-choice to begin making your own art works. For some of us though, it can be difficult to know where to begin, even when we are inspired. And even people who create on a regular basis sometimes find themselves in a dry spell.

In this month’s post I share some of the resources I have turned to through the years to get started or to get through a creative block. I hope you find something here to prime the pump.

Books:

My personal selection of books reflects my primary creative discipline of writing. Recently I’ve started branching out to more visual art mediums as well.

booksThese three books are an excellent starting place for any writer:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a witty, candid, exploration of where to begin and how to continue a healthy writing practice. Lamott assures us that whether we are writing a novel, memoir or multi-volume series, it will be accomplished, one sentence at a time.

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones works by shaping the person who is the writer. By challenging mental blocks and obstacles, she helps us stretch our imaginations to make space for all of our uncensored thoughts.

Just like athletes must move through the paces of pushups, sprints, and weight-lifting to get ready to perform on the field, strong writers engage in exercises to get ready to perform on the page. Naming the World and A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves (not pictured) are two excellent sources of varied writing exercises. While what you compose in an exercise may not be a masterpiece, hopefully it will move away the clutter so you can access the real writing gems later.

poetry booksFor those who specifically wish to hone their poetic craft and practice, I highly recommend these three books: Poemcrazy by Susan goldsmith Woolridge, Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen, and Poetry as Spiritual Practice by Robert McDowell as well as an on-line resource Writing from the Soul both website and social media site. If you follow the social media site, new writing prompts are posted in the form of photos every week. From taking a walk, to collecting trinkets, to identifying and practicing technical poetry forms, these resources offer commentary, exercises, and invitations to explore one’s inner and outer worlds in order to enrich one’s poetry pages.

bones of seeingFor those like me who dabble in both writing and visual arts, Natalie Goldberg has a new memoir out, Living Color: Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing complete with full color photos of her visual art works! I can’t wait to dive in and learn more about her practice. Memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies of artists whom you admire are also fantastic resources to learn about practice and process!

art journal workshopAnother possibility is art journaling. There are a myriad of resources out there to help a person get started. This Art Journal guide book by Traci Bunkers, complete with DVD, provides step-by-step directions for how to achieve a variety of mixed-media looks throughout a journal book resulting in a creative collaboration between collage, scrap-booking, writing, and painting. The results are vibrant reflections of one’s own life and journey.

enchanted forestFor those who want to get into visual arts there is a new outpouring of “Grown-up Coloring Books” to enjoy. I recently picked up Joanna Basford’s Enchanted Forest from BookWoman; it was a difficult decision between that and her Secret Garden collection of what she calls, “an inky quest and coloring book.” The pages are filled with intricate patterns and designs, complete with hidden images and themes throughout each book. There are many “Grown Up Coloring Books” which include mandalas, templates to make your own designs, starters for doodling, and even something called, Zentangles—a kind of meditative intentional doodling.

I also included in this photo, a sample of a mandala I found online. Coloring, especially mandalas, is an incredible relaxation creativity exercise.

Local Classes/Resources:

Waco has some wonderful classes available to artists of all ages. For one-time experiences try Practically Pikasso where you can form your own fused glass or mosaic creations, or create custom glaze designs on a vast array of blank pottery shapes.

If you’d like to try your hand at a canvas, check out one of these options:

  • Painting with a Twist guides participants (18+) through a specific project while sipping on a favorite adult beverage (BYOB). Each event offers a specific design, so check out their calendar and pick whichever painting you’d like to try!
  • Paint the Town Waco offers painting guidance for artists of all ages. During the summer classes for kiddos are every Tuesday at the Art Center of Waco.       Adult classes are held periodically at the CAST on Austin Avenue or parties and groups can book the founder & teacher, Sarah Weatherly for private events. To learn more, check out this interview she did with the Art Center of Waco!

Speaking of the Art Center of Waco, they offer classes for kiddos throughout the year. Resident ceramics artist, Jonathan Martin offers occasional adult ceramics classes as well. For more information contact the Art Center of Waco.

McLennan Community College offers a wide variety of arts classes through their Community Continuing Education program. Once you get to the site, click on the upcoming season’s program for a listing of available classes. I’ve seen anything from quilting to ceramics to photography to tango listed at quite reasonable prices for multi-session classes. It’s a great way to learn new skills and meet new friends who are learning too!

Finally, another wonderful resource is the Central Texas Artist Collective. Most recently they have been holding a series of pop-up painting in the park sessions—these are impromptu gatherings of artists of every level and ability getting together to paint, enjoy each other’s company, exchange ideas and technique, and build community through art. Supplies are usually provided and donations are always appreciated. Follow them on Facebook and/or Twitter to stay informed about upcoming events.

I hope you have now been both inspired and motivated to get out there…or stay in and create. Please share in the comments classes you’ve taken, books you’ve read, and volumes that are must-have resources on your shelves! I can’t wait to hear about what helps you get started or what gets you through your creative deserts!


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: [email protected]

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: Art is Long, Life is Short

By Jenuine Poetess

 Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

I first heard those words in my high school Latin class many…many moons ago. Art is long, life is short. We were translating phrases, classic wisdoms and warnings like, Cave Canem! “Beware of Dog!” or Caveat Emptor! “Let the buyer beware!” At the time, they didn’t hold much water for me; I was just glad for short translations!

poseidon

(the Faun; statue in a private home in Pompeii, Italy)

Earlier this month I gathered with 100 other artists and poets in Salerno, Italy, for the inaugural 100Thousand Artists for Change World Conference. We converged on this glorious Mediterranean city for 8 days to discuss the role, the responsibility, and the resource of art in furthering missions of peace, justice, and sustainability in our communities world-wide. Indeed I learned a great deal from my journey and the relationships forged during that time. More broadly than my own personal process, I’ve come away with an even deeper, more pressing urgency regarding the importance of art.

I had the remarkable opportunity to spend a day in Pompeii. The ruins of this city, more than any other I have experienced, moved me in profound ways. (For those unfamiliar with the history of Pompeii, this site is an excellent resource). What especially struck me was the pristine preservation of art–as a result of the city being buried in volcanic ash and debris–paintings, sculptures, frescos, and mosaics have withstood time in radiant resilience.

pompeii

(frescoes and mosaic altar inside wealthy Pompeii home)

My fingers gingerly traced the still-vibrant work of another’s hands, over two millennia ago. I was scolded, in Italian. But for a moment, a sacred second, across time and space I connected with another artist. I was humbled. Not by the scolding. By the enormity of art. It is so much more vast than you or I or Waco or Texas or the US or even all of the world. Art is both this very moment and all of eternity. A poem, a song, a painting, a photo, a sculpture, a dance, an installation, a mural, a mosaic—all of it is a mere breath of time, one pulsing beat of the heart. What inspires us to document that moment, above so many others? What moved us to immortalize that person, that sentiment, that truth out of the myriad experienced across the span of life? Why capture it at all?

Ask any artist why art matters and for as many people you interview, you may have that many answers. We create art to make statements, to make movements, to make emotions, to make changes, to make revolution, to make beauty, to make love.

Kiss poem

(poetry by Italian poet, Alfonso Gatto, installed by Salerno Artist, Pino Green)

Singular individuals create, sometimes collaborate. What we make is personal, intimately, privately, personal. And often so very public and political. It is said, what a skillful artist creates is both personal and universal; all at once. That creation is a signature of a specific person and yet, accessible from every angle, age, belief, generation, language, culture, identity, and experience. That is the grail after which we—sometimes obsessively—strive: universality.

But why? What does it matter if someone creates or does not? If it is personal or universal? Wouldn’t we be just fine without art?

(An exquisitely delicious and stunning butter cookie from Compañía de Café in San Fernando, CA)

(An exquisitely delicious and stunning butter cookie from Compañía de Café in San Fernando, CA)

Consider music, the way it moves the body, the soul. Have you ever had a poignant moment connected with music? Have you ever designed a soundtrack to your life or a particular season? Think about the countless photos—yes even selfies—snapped with a camera or phone. Do you realize you are creating art? What about those drawings made by little ones tacked to refrigerator doors and cubical walls? Or the texture and hue of that wool you knitted into a scarf to hold Winter’s winds at bay? Remember that moment, bigger than your being, when words became insufficient to articulate all that needed to be expressed? Or the way the curve and tangle of that gnarled old Oak, caught your breath, in that particular instant. What about that time that you met one who stirred places long dormant within you, and poetry, unexpected, flowed forth from your unassuming pen?

Art is everywhere and in everything. In the magnificence of creation, in the hues of our skin, in the ache of our tragedies.spider web

Art invites us to indulge in sensual pleasures sating taste, touch, sight, sound, scents. Art asks questions we cannot bear to utter. Art shows us what and how the world could be. Art holds up an unapologetic mirror reminding us, teaching us who we are. Art is a timeless narrative, telling our stories long after our echoes have subsided into the earth. Art is a tool to heal, to listen, to understand, to become.

In a magnificent project by Janice Lee, she calls for #finalpoems asking poets for their last words to an ending world.

Why?

Lee writes:

“Because one yet wants to believe that poetry can still be about the catastrophe and beauty of one’s own heart, and the generous giving away of those words to another.

If the world were to end next week, what is the final poem you write, the final poem you give away generously, treacherously, genuinely, fearfully, necessarily, beautifully?

That tomorrow it may very well all end, and we would know to bear the pain as the day rose and broke.

That the present is undying yet death awaits us all.

That words can still connect and touch, that we still know how to offer to others a piece of our soul.

That space yet expands and we know when to keep breathing and when to stop.

That poetry can yet be given and received, from one human being to another.”

(detail of a painting I purchased in Istanbul, Turkey, outside the Blue Mosque)

(detail of a painting I purchased in Istanbul, Turkey, outside the Blue Mosque)

I consider the works of art preserved by a volcano that destroyed an entire city in 79 AD. I awe and wonder how inside that moment of agony and death, art endured–audaciously, vibrantly, resiliently.

 

 

 


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles, CA; Waco, TX; and Lebanon.  Jenuine is the founder of Waco Poets Society and co-founder of the Central Texas Artist Collective.    She writes, organizes, and creates rooted in the fierce conviction that holding intentional space, access, and opportunity for all people to foster their creative health is a matter of justice and is a vital asset to the sustainable thriving of communities.  She currently lives and poems in Central Texas where she enjoys finding new ways to disrupt the homeostasis of her city.  You can contact her at: [email protected].

 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

Open Mic : On why holding space matters

by Jenuine Poetess

It is easy to feel lost and betrayed in a world of increasing alienation, where greed, injustice, and dull materialism obscure the underlying dream of life. There is a path the soul would have us take and a unique way of seeing the world it would have us awaken to. There is a music and rhythm in the body and a song in the soul; both an inner vitality and an instinctive connection to the divine that is the inborn source of great imagination and creativity,” mythologist Michael Meade writes. Rooted in this very conviction, Waco Poets Society holds space for every voice to share its story, song, poem, rhythm, and truths via regular open mic events throughout the city.

Nuestra voz

(Nuestra Voz open mic @ Art Forum Back Patio, Saturday May 9, 2015)

There is something uniquely transformative, when a collection of people—across so many cultures, beliefs, ages, disabilities, life-practices, genders, abilities, talents, genres, styles, and languages—gather together to share with to one another. Assumptions, prejudices, walls begin to crumble as we listen to each other. We begin hearing pieces of our own stories, nestled within the harmonies and poetics of another. We recognize parts of ourselves in the mirrors our creative expressions are for one another.

don't have to agreeThe extraordinary thing is that regardless of all the things that might divide us, within the space of an open mic, we respect and honor the expression. We don’t all have to agree on the content, but we hold space for one another acknowledging that every person has authority over their own truth. While Waco Poets Society is committed to holding an uncensored space, their one caveat is that hate speech of any kind—toward self or others—is not welcome because it is not a productive part of cultivating authentic community.

Beyond Waco Poets Society, other individuals and grass-roots initiatives are beginning to bloom throughout this city. Organized by Saddiq Granger, a new gathering called Minority Report is an open-to-all talking circle safe space where everyone is invited to share their stories of minority experiences or being marginalized in any setting due to a specific difference…and it’s a potluck!

minority report

(Minority Report talking circle & potluck at the CAST, March 2015)

It is vital to the thriving of our community that such spaces continue and multiply. There is no such thing as too many spaces for creative and authentic expressions of personal truths! These circles and conversations and open mic gatherings and dialogues are what allow us to give one another agency. To affirm that Yes! our stories, our experiences matter. To step for a moment into another’s shoes and feel the challenges of the path they walk daily. To deepen our mindfulness and broaden our compassion. This is how our city will flourish. This is how we will continue growing into the community where everyone is welcome, celebrated, and honored for exactly who they are. Of course we don’t all have to believe or live or practice or speak or dress or express in the same ways. How bland would life be if that were the case!

Open mic and creative talking circles give us the opportunity to practice being curious about the truths of others. We hold space for people to be nourished and inspired by the collective creativity exchanged. Artists are allowed to practice new styles and voices and expressions while sorting out their own true identity. We have grace for the mistakes, stutters, and stumbles because we celebrate the fact that all of us, not just our art works, are rough drafts. We challenge one another as those more experienced nudge those of us just starting out into enriched becoming. Across generations and cultures and languages and beliefs and genders and identities relationships are formed. And those relationships, transform individuals, transform neighborhoods, transform cities, transform nations.

Get Involved:

  • New Open Mic collaboration between Waco Poets Society, Central Texas Artist Collective, & Tea2Go Waco every 3rd Thursday beginning May 21st @ 7pm with a kick-off event featuring singer/song-writer Katie Stewart. CTAC will be curating a monthly visual arts exhibit which will open each month at open mic. FREE ~ please purchase drinks to support this new local business!
  • Nuestra Voz open mic @ Art Forum of Waco May 23, 2015 at 7pm. Theme for this event is Grief & Loss. This will be a safe space for remembering, honoring, reflecting on expressions of who and what has been lost. This is a potluck event; bring a main, side, dessert dish or drink to share. FREE ~ $3 donations appreciated & shared with Art Forum.
  • Keep up with the next Minority Report circle & potluck by visiting & liking their social media page at: facebook.com/MinorityReportWaco

National Poetry Month: Why Poetry Matters

By Jenuine Poetess

every poet

(magnetic poetry & photo by Jenuine Poetess)

April is many things to many people. For some, April is about Autism Awareness & Advocacy. For others April shines a light on the presence of Child Abuse and how to prevent violence against youth in their homes. Some people celebrate their pets in April, other people honor the Earth, still others may go fly a kite. Here at the Arts & Culture blog, we’re celebrating Poetry! Among the myriad of causes, April is National Poetry Month. Established in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets, National Poetry Month strives to not only draw attention to poets and their works but also to inspire others to try their hand at writing verse. Poet Maureen Thorson is credited with initiating the NaPoWriMo challenge in 2003 in which participants endeavor to write 30 poems in 30 days throughout the month of April. If you are feeling ambitious, it’s not too late in the month to begin; check out the NaPoWriMo website for daily prompts and tips!

her ancient

(magnetic poetry & photo by Jenuine Poetess)

As a poet, sometimes I forget that for many people, poetry serves little to no purpose in their daily lives. Actually, this is quite a shocking realization for me to remember. I’ve been writing poems, in some form, since I was a little girl. I was a non-committal open mic attendee for many years after college and wrote every now and then when I was so moved. It wasn’t until I began attending weekly open mics and womyn’s writing circle at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in Sylmar, CA in 2009 that I finally claimed my identity as Poet and began seriously practicing the written and spoken-word arts. I quickly found poetry to be my new way of life. I relished the rebellion of breaking grammar rules to arrange words on the page, without a care for punctuation or use of articles. Words themselves became the adornments of my expressions. Pure. Undiluted. Raw. Within this realm of reckless, wild, word-play, I found my own voice. I have known no other liberation so exhilarating as beholding the reflection of myself in the words I have poured upon my pages. I am certainly not the first, no the last to embark on this journey of self-knowing via pen and paper. Science fiction author, Octavia Estelle Butler affirms, “Every story I write, creates me. I write to create myself.”

luis

(photo credit: Luis J. Rodriguez)

Poet W. B. Yeats asserts, “out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” It is from within that quarrel with one’s self, that the truest aspects of our soul remain refined, after everything else has burned away. For most poets I know and by whom I am inspired, we write to shed light on truth with very little interest in keeping ourselves or others comfortable. The visceral art of poetry is to be unsilent, to provoke, to protest, to be—unflinching and unapologetic. It is up to the reader to divine meaning, to interpret call to action, to take away value.

royal

(photo credit: Jenuine Poetess)

Without hesitation or embellishment I candidly admit that poetry has saved my life on countless occasions. Whether it is the catharsis of purging my turmoil, heartache, outrage, or euphoria onto the page; or the validation of listening or reading others’ words putting into language thoughts, feelings, moments I too have experienced; or the deep joy of witnessing another come into bloom, finding their own voice and raising the volume to speak, with authority, their truths; writing has saved and changed my life. Mine is not the only testament to this fact. From youth and adults in correctional facilities, to those doing the work in therapy sessions, to cancer patients working through their mortality, to the grieving remembering their loved ones lost, to hearts pounding in love and desire, to joyful wonder captured spontaneous, people world-wide speak fluently the language of poetry.

NV January

(Nuestra Voz open mic @ Art Forum of Waco — January 2015)

Historically, poetry has been a dangerous occupation getting writers excommunicated at best and executed at worst. We have been outcast and exiled, tortured and isolated, we have been misunderstood and hated since the dawn of poetry. I promise you, it is not for the faint-of-heart. Poetry is born out of marrow and mire. It is a Phoenix rising again and again out of the ashes of our souls, the glowing remnants of what has been destroyed. Poetry is our rebirth. We write to know ourselves and we share to know each other. This is how we build community, through our creative expressions. Through speaking our truths. Through listening, with intention, to what each other is saying—deep within our words.

I do not write because it is nice or fun.   Poetry is not a hobby or leisure activity. Poetry is among my personal hierarchy of needs. I must write. When my words are quiet, I feel it; I know it is a grave vital sign of my distress. Poetry is my compass and my map. Poetry is my truest mirror showing me unedited reflections of myself. Poetry is my measure and my portion. Poetry is both a part of me, and something entirely beyond me, all at once.

Get Involved!

  • penneyWaco Poets Society hosts an open mic every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco, 7pm and welcomes the sharing of poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, reflections, jokes, and more!
  • Challenge yourself to write 30 poems in 30 days—yes! haiku count! J
  • Attend readings at the Austin International Poetry Festival featuring Nikki Giovanni April 9th-12th
  • Attend Waco’s Annual WordFest, a part of the Waco Cultural Arts Festival in September 2015
  • Stop by the Waco Poets Society booth any 2nd Saturday at the Waco Downtown Farmers’ Market to try your hand on our vintage typewriter or to play with magnetic words

Resources:

These are some of my go-to resources for practicing, contemplating, and exploring the written & spoken-word arts.

  • NaPoWriMo – prompts and tips for writing 30 poems in 30 days of April
  • Poem Crazy: freeing your life with words – by Susan G. Wooldridge
  • Poetry as Spiritual Practice: using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions – by Robert McDowell
  • Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry – by Sage Cohen
  • Skipping Stones is a rich multicultural literary and arts magazine for children and youth

    Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice.HOT~ITWOW writing circle meets Mondays from 6-7:45pm at the Art Forum of Waco beginning February 2, 2015.  Jenuine also founded Waco Poets Society which sponsors a local open mic venue in Sanger Heights.  Meeting every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco Nuestra Voz Open Mic invites community to share poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, and other creative expressions!  In 2015, Jenuine along with a number of other artists creating and residing in Waco, co-founded the Central Texas Artist Collective (click link to learn more and get involved).  You can contact her at: [email protected].

Art on Elm: East Waco’s Neighborhood Arts Block Party

by Jenuine Poetess

squigglesSince 2011, East Waco has partnered with NeighborWorks Waco to host an annual block party complete with music, visual art exhibit, artisan booths, and food vendors known as, Art on Elm. This celebration of community and creative expression was born out of a question of how to rekindle the sparks from a once-thriving area of Waco’s Downtown. Consultants were brought in to evaluate the neighborhood, its history, and the needs of the community. Out of those conversations and brainstorms, Art on Elm was born.

boy in T-shirt

Young volunteer

Art on Elm features an exhibit of visual arts submitted by artists across many disciplines who are living and creating in Waco. On an outdoor stage musicians from around Central Texas set the tone for community celebration as the street, closed to vehicle traffic, fills with neighbors dancing, laughing, and singing together. The aroma of fresh food cooking wafts across the blocks from local food vendors creating a feast for all senses! (The last day to submit artwork, musical feature, food or artisan vendor is TODAY, March 11, 2015! Click here for details).

picture of city

Mural by Art on Elm youth.

A key component of Art on Elm is empowering youth.  You people get involved both as volunteers…and as artists.  This event is an opportunity for neighbors from all across McLennan county, Central Texas, and even out-of-state to gather, celebrate the talent and value of creative expression and to be reminded of what rich resources Wacoans have to offer one another.

splash partyThis year’s event will be held on Saturday April 11, 2015 from 10am-3pm. The event is FREE and open to the public of all ages. You will want to bring cash for food and art purchases. If you’re interested in a sneak peek at the art exhibit, join Art On Elm on Friday April 10th for the Splash of Color Preview Party. Click here for ticket information.

Get Involved in Art on Elm!

  • Calling volunteers of all ages for Art On Elm! Jobs could include children’s activities, directing traffic, handing out flyers, working in the exhibition or helping with music. If you would like more information about being a volunteer please contact us at [email protected].
  • Call for submissions (visual arts, vendors, musicians) ends TODAY MARCH 11, 2015!! Click here for guidelines to submit.
  • Come to the event on April 11, 2015 and bring your friends, family, and neighbors!

Upcoming Arts & Culture Events:

  • nuestra vozWaco Poets Society’s Nuestra Voz/Our Voice hosts an Abilities & Mental Health Awareness and Solidarity Open Mic on Saturday March 14, 2015 at 7pm at the Art Forum of Waco (1826 Morrow Ave). This event is FREE ($3 suggested donation) and open to people of all ages, abilities, genres, languages, styles, identities, and cultures.
  • Waco Poets Society will host a Pop-up Writing Circle before open mic on the 14th, beginning at 6pm at the Art Forum. Prompt, paper, and pens will be available—come ready to write and discuss! This is a casual, affirming, collaborative, creative space.
  • In the Words of Womyn weekly writing circle continues on Mondays from 6-7:30pm at the Art Forum of Waco—open to all who live as and identify as womyn. This space is for the practice, discussion, and exploration of the written & spoken-word arts. All genre writers welcome!
  • BIRDS Exhibit will begin accepting submissions of art works across any discipline on March 27, 2015 for exhibit at the Art Forum of Waco from April 25th through June 13th. All ages, all media welcome! For more information please click here.
  • every heroWaco McLennan Library is holding a Writing & Art Contest for young artists ages 5-17. Deadline March 20, 2015. Please click here for full submission guidelines. (every hero)

Have an arts and/or cultural event you’d like to share with the community or a project we should know about? Please contact Jenuine Poetess at [email protected].

(Photo credits: All photos courtesy of NeighborWorks Waco, used with permission)


 

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice.HOT~ITWOW writing circle meets Mondays from 6-7:45pm at the Art Forum of Waco beginning February 2, 2015.  Jenuine also founded Waco Poets Society which sponsors a local open mic venue in Sanger Heights.  Meeting every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco Nuestra Voz Open Mic invites community to share poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, and other creative expressions!  In 2015, Jenuine along with a number of other artists creating and residing in Waco, co-founded the Central Texas Artist Collective (click link to learn more and get involved).  You can contact her at: [email protected].

 

North Waco : A Season of Jubilee

by Jenuine Poetess

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Khira Hailey, Artistic Director of Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theater and supervisor of “Urban Expressions” in North Waco at the corner of 15th and Colcord. Over gourmet hot cocoas from Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits she shared with me her personal history at, present work with, and vibrant vision for Jubilee Theater. After our conversation, I had the pleasure of attending Hailey’s production of A Woman Called Truth in remembrance and celebration of Black History Month.

old Jubiless

(photo credit: Jubilee Theater Archives)

From her earliest years, Hailey recalls having an insatiable hunger for theater arts, yet lack of programming in her later elementary and middle school years left her without any outlet for her theater arts creativity. In high school her passion was rekindled by a teacher, Von Gretchen Shepherd, who ignited Hailey’s spark and provided opportunity and direction. After high school, Hailey attended the University of North Texas where she studied Radio, Television, and Film and participated in such groups as Poetic Justice and CAST. The founder of CAST was a Wacoan who initially revived the Jubilee Theater under Mission Waco’s wing in 1995 until his departure in 2012 at which point he called upon Hailey to take the baton and continue shaping the theater arts programming at Jubilee Theater.

piano lesson 1

(photo credit: Jubilee Theater. from, A Piano Lesson, produced fall 2014)

In an area with a sordid history, Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theater thrives into its name by offering replenishing respite and redemption while revitalizing a struggling neighborhood. Poverty is not a simple matter of lack of money, poverty occurs when individuals and communities are sapped of resilience, resources, and outlets for creative and cultural expression. When agency is removed and voices are silenced — poverty is a symptom. In the heart of an area of Waco which had been long stripped bare of identity, vibrancy, and thriving, Jubilee Theater has grown into an oasis cultivating and resuscitating a pulsing life into its neighborhood.

Through after school programming, Hailey empowers students in Mission Waco’s theater arts classes to learn and strengthen verbal communication skills, acting techniques, emotion expression, reading and literacy, courage and confidence and the ability to carry and present themselves publicly. In addition to after school opportunities there is an annual musical production open to young actors and theater artists in 3rd- 8th grades and a summer theater camp experience.

piano lesson 2

(photo credit: Jubilee Theater. from, A Piano Lesson, produced fall 2014)

Not just for youth, Jubilee Theater presents three to four performances a year with auditions open to all community members. Jubilee kicked off 2015 with several showings of A Woman Called Truth: the story of Sojourner Truth. On February 15th, Waco Civic Theater will be performing their show, Crowns, at Jubilee Theater as a benefit fund-raiser for both Jubilee Theater and the Doris Miller Memorial. Coming up in March, the theater presents its annual youth musical, on the stage this year, Alice in Wonderland. Wrapping up the season will be a production of Amen Corner, a gospel musical open to actors of all ages coming in April.

1.27 - Crowns posterKhira Hailey is a woman of many talents and powerful vision. She has exciting hopes and plans for the future of the theater and its programming—we even cooked up ideas for collaborations with Waco Poets Society & poetry/spoken-word events! Hailey is continuing to strengthen relationships with community members to grow and enrich the after school program offerings, to increase funding for the theater to bring a riveting selection of shows in 2016 and beyond, and to have consistently abundant attendance at Jubilee productions.

One of the concerns Hailey has had during her tenure at Jubilee Theater is shifting the perceptions of the greater Waco community regarding the North Waco area. Because of its coarse past, she says many folks shy away from seeing the theater’s productions and attendance and ticket sales have suffered as a result. In reality, the area is safe and returning to thriving. Hailey shared that it is most discouraging to know how much time, energy, talent, and passion goes into each production, poured out of every person involved from actors, producers, directors, to costume design, stage craft, lighting, and sound, only to have handfuls of people show up in support. Waco is rich with extraordinarily talented artists across every age, gender, ethnicity, experience, belief, culture, and identity. Our community misses out on the benefits of such wealth when we don’t show up to be present for our neighbors, friends, and leaders who are transforming our city one creative expression at a time.

I loved my time with Khira Hailey and left our conversation inspired and excited to share her work with Waco. Hailey is motivated in her work by watching others flourishing in their craft—be it theater, poetry/spoken-word, visual arts, dance, performance; she is nourished by the mentoring of others in her field, and is deeply passionate about holding space for others to become themselves through the creative process, from audition to final curtain!

Get Involved:

  • To purchase tickets for upcoming shows or to find out information about renting the theater for a special event please visit Jubilee Theater online.
  • To make a donation to the theater and/or after school youth programs, please visit Mission Waco’s donation page and complete your transaction via secure credit/debit card (be sure to note in the comments that you want your contribution to go toward Jubilee Theater programming).
  • If you would like to contribute your time and talents in any of the following ways, please call or text Khira Hailey at (469) 471-1969
  • Auditioning for an upcoming show, or leading a workshop in the after school program (looking for volunteers who can make a semester or school-year commitment 1 afternoon a week in any of the following categories: Theater, Speech & Debate, Dance, Fine Arts, other creative disciplines)
  • LIKE and SHARE the Mission Waco Jubilee Theater Facebook page to stay tuned about the rich array of events throughout the year. Information about the youth summer theater camp will be rolling out in March/April 2015.
  • Save the date to come hear Khira Hailey perform as featured artist at Waco Poets Society’s Nuestra Voz open mic on Saturday March 28, 2015, 7pm, in celebration of Womyn’s Herstory Month.

Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice.HOT~ITWOW writing circle meets Mondays from 6-7:45pm at the Art Forum of Waco beginning February 2, 2015.  Jenuine also founded Waco Poets Society which sponsors a local open mic venue in Sanger Heights.  Meeting every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco Nuestra Voz Open Mic invites community to share poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, and other creative expressions!  In 2015, Jenuine along with a number of other artists creating and residing in Waco, co-founded the Central Texas Artist Collective (click link to learn more and get involved).  You can contact her at: [email protected].

 

She Did it Anyway : A Birth Story

by Jenuine Poetess

One Friday evening late in May 2009, I ventured to a place I had never been before, yet a place I had known for years: Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. This independent bookstore and non-profit community center for arts and culture is nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in California. Intentionally planted in the heart of an area known for steel mills, gang violence, and the pornography industry, Tia Chucha’s is a catalyst for revolutionary healing and urban transformation, “where art and minds meet, for a change.”

performing

Performing at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural Friday Open Mic (photo credit: Patricia Paz Moya)

I came for open mic and found limitless wealth of community, creativity, and inspiration. I also began to notice the imbalance of voices. While there were many womyn in attendance each week, not very many of them stepped up to the mic. I was curious. Many womyn shared with me about how they wrote, yet, they never read aloud. Ever.

Some told me they were shy. Others anxious. Some confided that they didn’t feel welcome at the mic. We talked about what it might be like to have a gathering of womyn writers, to build courage and confidence together.

In the fall of 2009, I offered the suggestion to several of the Centro staff, Stacy, Karina, and Luz as well as the Director of Operations and co-founder, Trini. They loved the idea and asked when I would like to start it. I laughed, clarifying that I did not want to lead it, I just wanted to attend. I thought someone else should lead it. Someone legit. I mean, I wasn’t even published. I had never taken a class on writing. I didn’t know anything. I just rambled on the page and sometimes it came out as poetry. I didn’t even call myself a writer or poet then. No. No way. I was definitely not qualified. With a gentle guiding hand on my shoulder, Trini said, “we have a belief here at the centro, that if someone comes to us with a vision for something, then it is intended for them to accomplish. Take your time, and when you are ready, we are here and will support you all the way.” This was one of the top three transformative moments of my life.

with trini

Trini Rodriguez and Jenuine Poetess outside Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, Sylmar, CA

I pondered the weight and wisdom of Trini’s words all the way home. I wrestled with doubt, insecurities, and fears over the next four weeks until I came to a liberating and joyful conclusion: none of us need someone to tell us how or what to write. What we need is space held for our becoming. We needed to gather in a circle to teach and learn from each other. We didn’t need red pen massacres on our pages. We didn’t need others’ authority over our work, our words. We needed the chance to claim authority over our own truths. We needed to, “give sound to our story and volume to our voice.”

So I created a proposal. Settled on a name. Bought a domain name (then learned how to build a website). I went back to Trini and with a quiver in my voice I said, “I’m in!” On January 15, 2010 In the Words of Womyn writing circle met for the very first time. Strategically scheduled right before open mic on Fridays, my hope was that as we wrote and shared and grew in our identities as writers, we would also show up en masse to read, perform, and cheer one another on at open mic. And that is exactly what happened!

world festival

ITWOW poets gather to perform at the Annual Celebrating Words Festival at LA Mission College, May 2012

I haven’t quite found the words to articulate the singular joy that is witnessing a woman finding her voice, standing up, and speaking her truth for the very first time. All these years later, many of the womyn who began in ITWOW with shaking voices and trembling hearts are now hosting their own open mic venues and writing circles. They are celebrating publications, compiling and editing anthologies, and featuring at venues far and wide. I look on in awe and wonder, overflowing with pride and joy and profound respect for each of my sisters.

barnes and noble

HOT~ITWOW meeting at Barnes & Noble Waco, fall 2014 (photo credit: Jenuine Poetess)

When I moved from Los Angeles to Texas in 2012, it was my deepest hope that ITWOW would continue at Tia Chucha’s and that I would have an opportunity to gather a circle of womyn in Waco. To my eternal joy, Alex Hohmann stepped up to carry on the vision of ITWOW~San Fernando Valley. In 2013, In the Words of Womyn~Heart of Texas launched. We met weekly on Mondays first at Croft Art Gallery, then at Barnes & Noble. In 2015 the circle will begin on Monday, February 2, at the Art Forum of Waco.

lebanon

In the Words of Womyn~Lebanon 2014 (photo credit: Nagham Wehbe)

Earlier in 2014 Nagham Wehbe, a writer, activist, and film-maker from the ITWOW~SFV circle approached me with a proposal about beginning a circle chapter overseas in her home place of Lebanon. I was elated! From the beginning, my dream was that ITWOW would become a global project with organic circles popping up everywhere womyn gather from schools to prisons, community centers to front porches, book stores to employee break rooms. In the summer of 2014 a staggering 70 womyn of all ages attended the kick-off of ITWOW-Lebanon!

This year ITWOW celebrates its fifth birthday. What these five years have taught me is that when I go boldly into that which overwhelms or intimidates me, I find extraordinary treasure in my own becoming.  It is my utmost joy to do this work.

event flyerCome celebrate with us January 17, 2015. Attend the “She did it anyway” Womyn’s Writing Retreat from 10a-5pm. The retreat will be followed by evening events open to the public. (Full schedule available online). We all have a story to tell, and when we are given permission to take up space, to turn up our volume, we find immeasurable beauty in the reflection shining back at us from our pages.


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. HOT~ITWOW writing circle meets Mondays from 6-7:45pm at the Art Forum of Waco beginning February 2, 2015.  Jenuine also founded Waco Poets Society which sponsors a local open mic venue in Sanger Heights.  Meeting every 2nd & 4th Saturday at the Art Forum of Waco Nuestra Voz Open Mic invites community to share poems, songs, stories, spoken-word, and other creative expressions! You can contact her at: [email protected].

 

On Art, Culture, and Social Justice

By Jenuine Poetess

Recently I was asked a series of questions all circling around this central notion of, Why poetry? Why art? What purpose does it serve society? Below I share my reflections as I have experienced them. As art is a universal experience with each person giving and receiving into that experience from their own particular filters, there are countless ways to engage these questions. My thoughts are by no means the only ones; please, in the comments, join the dialogue.

Across all of time, art has served as a platform from which to launch ideas, movements, tectonic shifts in collective consciousness.

Personally, I write, I create, because I must. Poetry is my pulse. My breath. A truth that must be written, spilled onto pages between tears, between swoons, between heart-racing becoming. Because I cannot stay quiet.

I write to know myself. I write in protest of injustice—both personal and global. I write to heal. I write to remain compassionate and conscious. I share to remember I am not alone and in doing so, give others permission to be exactly who they are, without shame. I share to bear witness to my stories, to grow with others, to build community, and to forge relationships.

Publicly, poetry—and all art really —is a catalyst. For healing. For change. For protest. For validation. For transformation. Art holds space for what must be said. Art invites sensual experience; and opportunity to feel with another. Art has the potential to condense moments, events, truth into a universally accessible dialogue.

Regarding poetry particularly, I see it making a return to the esteem it once held in past societies. It has a long way to go. There are a myriad of iterations to poetry—from the academic and technically sharp to the raw, provocative spoken-word; from the beauty of strict form to the wilds of free-verse flows all of it serves the artistry of poetry.

On Sunday November 30th, Waco Poets Society and In the Words of Womyn—two local, grass-roots programs—held an open mic and sharing circle in solidarity with Ferguson and to hold space for dialogue about the systemic issues of racism, especially regarding the experience of Black persons of color in the US, and police brutality. We held this space so that we could give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Because in an open mic circle, all people have authority to speak their truth. The circle is a neutral gathering space for dialogue, for grieving, for thrashing out pain, meaning, and transformation.

community circle

Over 40 people from across the community gathered to share poems, songs, reflections, and prayers continuing a national dialogue on justice, racism, and hope for healing.  Pictured here, community activist, Bettie V. Beard speaking.

i poem
i create
i gather with others
sharing
thinking
speaking
wailing
trembling
organizing
aching
shouting
loving
for change
for justice
for sustained thriving
because it is the only way i know how
to navigate
this broken world
to counteract
the hate
to understand
how to keep going
to remember
why we do this work
so that every time
i look into the curious eyes
of the next generation
i know i have done
my part
even if in vain
to know that i have been diligent
to fight
with everything in me
to make it safe
for them to be
to play
to walk
to breathe
to dance
to speak
to rage
to become
to live

As I am working, with intention, my way out of blindness to my white privilege, I remember how my community has and continues to guide and love me into consciousness with fierce truth and relentless compassion.

I don’t have all the answers for how to fix or even reconstruct our system—nationally and within our community. It is not my responsibility to have them all or come up with them. It is my job to recognize what is broken, shed light, speak this truth—which I do most frequently through art, do my own work to be conscious, to be change, to hold space for the expressions of others, and to keep listening to and working along side sisters and brothers for an end to violence, to injustice, to racism, to classism, to patriarchy, to hate crimes, to selfish greedy privilege.

cornel west quote

(Image found at: https://twitter.com/afsc_org/status/429262591894888449)

I cannot see any other way. I can’t imagine any other response. If I say that LOVE matters above all else, and am not outraged, am not bereft, am not moving to action, am not speaking out on all of this, am not pouring every ounce of breath into this work, then I haven’t the first clue what is love.

i will never know
the depth of the kind of fear
that is deep in the bones
of my black sisters and brothers

i will never presume to know
first hand
the agony they endure
as a result of the injustice
this nation
this society
this system
continues to mete out upon them

i will never fully comprehend
the scope of the privilege
my white skin affords me

and

i will never stop learning
listening
working in my own way
to be change
to be conscious
to be relentlessly compassionate
to stand up for
and out against injustice
to never stay silent
when i should speak
to use what privilege is mine
to make movements
until
my
last
breath
expires

there is no option
this is the only reasonable response i can muster
anything else
would be a farce
an insult
a hypocrisy
of
love


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

 

Brave Young Voices ~ Empowering Youth through Art

by Jenuine Poetess  

In June of this year, I was met with an opportunity to submit a proposal to present at the 10th Annual Strengthening Youth and Families Conference in San Marcos, Texas. I eagerly perused the prompts for possible workshops and break-out sessions and began to formulate an outline. Within several weeks I submitted my proposal for consideration. It was a brave move on my part; this conference looked like a pretty big deal and I have never presented in such a setting before. For better or worse I decided that at the very least, the process would be informative and shaping for me. I was thrilled when I received word two months later that my proposal had been accepted and I was invited to be among the talented and dynamic conference presenters.

jp audience

Some of the fine folks who attended my workshop at the 10th Annual Strengthening Youth and Families Conference November 6, 2014. San Marcos, Texas.

Earlier this month I made the trip to San Marcos and with my “First Timer” name badge I boldly went where I had never gone before with confidence and courage. My workshop? How Art Transforms Youth and Their Communities. My attendees? Counselors, teachers, social workers, mentors, therapists, pastors, probation officers, foster parents, principals, juvenile justice professionals, case managers, and parents. I relished the opportunity to share my passion, experience, and resources with professional colleagues to inspire and affirm ideas for engaging youth in creative practices.

Across the span of my life I have served the generations next in a myriad of roles including: camp counselor, mentor, church youth leader, foster mother, supervisor/manager, teacher, trainer, therapist (mental health), sister, artist, poet, community organizer, and collaborator. I have worked with youth within systems and institutions such as education, corrections, and churches. I have built relationships through community spaces and projects. I have sat in the deepest dark of night to comfort young ones in the throes of nightmares—both imagined and real. I have walked with the vulnerable through their most harrowing traumas and have witnessed the profound liberation of their healing victories. I have wept over my own limitations and the haunting questions of, “have I done/am I doing enough?” In every setting and role, art has played a vital role in fostering the powerfully transformative relationships I have had the honor and privilege of building with so many extraordinary youth over the last two decades.

jp top 10 skillsI came across the infographic to the right along with a corresponding article in the Washington Post as I was doing research for my presentation. I used this as a foundation and categorized the 10 skills into four key components of empowered youth development:

  • Coping Skills
  • Self-Awareness
  • Resilience Training
  • Empathy Building

The Top 10 Skills and my four categories fall in line with a guide released in the 1990s by the Search Institute on the 40 Developmental Assets which they found vital to nurturing a thriving youth. These 40 components are comprised of both internal and external qualities necessary to shape a young person into an individual who has a strong sense of self, a vision for their purpose, and a desire to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities and the world beyond them. Again and again, research and practice has shown that youth who engage in consistent creative outlets through school or community arts programming have greater opportunity to cultivate the skills that will foster their flourishing.

jp every child artistThis past summer, I was invited to facilitate a writing circle workshop with students at La Vega High School during their after-summer-school program. Four young women and I met weekly for four weeks writing and sharing together. Inside the circle they were given prompts to write about—any genre—and every week I was humbled and awe-struck at the strength, courage, and creativity of these brave young voices. Whether through poetry, sci-fi fan fiction, personal reflections, or stories, these girls worked through issues of identity, self-esteem, healing, peer pressure, future goals, relationships, loss, and struggle. They learned how to find their own voice, amidst the cacophony of voices in their lives—parents, teachers, friends, media—and how to turn up the volume truly listening to who they are becoming.

jp greatest goodI watched as these young women became more confident in their own words. I relished seeing a light glow from within as they began to trust that they have a story to tell the world and that their unique story matters so much. Though our time together this summer was short, it is my deepest hope that the seeds of creative expression through the written and spoken-word arts continue to grow and bloom within them, for an individual empowered to know and share their story is an unstoppable force for transformation.

“I’m inspired!…now what?”

If you or an organization with which you are affiliated is interested in starting or strengthening arts programming, I would be delighted to collaborate and consult with you. I have starter kits for writing circles and open mic venues as well as heaps of resources for visual, written, and spoken-word arts projects. I love engaging directly with youth as well as providing adults the tools and support to cultivate creative practice in youth. From printable color sheets to art therapy activities to event planning I am always eager to share what I have and know to expand the impact of arts and culture in and around Waco. Please contact me at: [email protected].


Jenuine Poetess August 2014Jenuine Poetess is an artist, visionary, and community organizer. In 2010, she founded In the Words of Womyn (ITWOW), an international, grass-roots, written and spoken-word arts project with chapters throughout Los Angeles; Waco, TX; and Lebanon. ITWOW empowers womyn of all ages to give sound to our story and volume to our voice. Jenuine also co-hosts Nuestra Voz & Word Gallery, monthly open mic venues for poetry, music, spoken-word, story-telling, and more! You can contact her at: [email protected]

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.