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A Reflection on [Mental] Health: January Poetry

A fragile soul so young,

A pleasure center numbed,

How quick I was to hide inside my fears.

The fear of age, rage, and misplaced trust,

The fear of reopening wounds from familial — “musts”.

Through a reflection of self,

I greeted my demon with a smirk,

For I knew the time had come to embrace self-care.

Though I’ve worn down my heart strings and bent their frequency,

Into meandering melodies craving consistency,

I’ve found my soul,

I’ve found my song,

I’ve found my health,

And my healing.




Poetry, #22 Silent Night…: From “The (chap) Book of the Dead”

They said I must be out of my mind

wanting to celebrate Christmas this year,

that survival was all we had

to be thankful for; that the stories

were lies, and worse, hope was harm

waiting to happen. I said, “Shut up

both of you and open your presents.”

See, Jenny used to talk all the time

about this unbreakable composite bat

she saw once. And it’s no surprise

that Stevie’s jokes about shoveling

the driveway with a flamethrower

each winter wasn’t a kid’s dream

of the perfect gift under the tree.

Finding these things was hard enough,

hiding them until the 25th? Almost

impossible. But it gave me something

to focus on other than death. My gift

was seeing their faces look a little

like before all this happened: normal.

I won’t tell them how I risked myself

raiding that strip mall out by the town,

just to find canned milk for eggnog.

The stocking are just socks, plain wool,

but the handguns inside are the gifts

that keep on giving. This year we have

a small piece of a holiday we once took

for granted. We enjoy our time together.

…I’ll tell them about the bite tomorrow.




High School Student Poets: Apply to be RI youth poetry ambassador

Seeking a youth poetry ambassador for 2022, the RI Center for the Book invites applications from high school students who reside in RI. State Poet Laureate Tina Cane will select an ambassador and deputy ambassador with results announced in January 2022.

“This initiative is designed to bring more poetry directly to our state’s youth and to inspire young people through example. Just as the state poet laureate position symbolically affirms Rhode Island’s support of poetry, the youth poetry ambassador is meant to validate and support the creative potential of our young people,” said center director Kate Lentz in a statement.

Depending upon the selected ambassador’s ability and availability, they will receive a $250 cash prize, a guest-writer spot in the Providence Journal “Second Sunday” poet laureate column, an opportunity to have poetry featured on RIPTA buses through the “Poetry in Motion” program, and an opportunity to record for Cane’s distance reading series, “Poetry is Bread.”

Applicants must submit by December 15, 2021: a one- or two-paragraph statement on why the applicant would like to be considered for the position, a letter of support from a teacher or librarian, a letter of support from a peer, and two original poems. All parts of the application must be submitted together.

Applications should be sent by e-mail to kate@ribook.org or by postal mail to Kate Lentz, RI Center for the Book, Pell Center, Salve Regina University, 100 Ochre Point Ave, Newport, RI 02840.

The 2022 appointments will be the fourth annual (except for a two-year term during the pandemic), following previous ambassador Moira Flath and deputy ambassador Kiani Sincere-Pope (2018), ambassador Catherine Sawoski and deputy ambassador Tyler Cordeiro (2019), and ambassador Halima Ibrahim and deputy ambassador Eugenie Rose Belony (2020/2021).




The Four Turtles

by  Isaiah “Sleeping Turtle” Johnson

The cloudy sky in my waking eyes is adorned with blue, gray, and white. The yellow sun blazed in full as I lay in the grass. Bodies of the Indigenous flooded the water. The Great Eagle soared the heavens as the eye of the storm opened at Manitou’s whim. I stood up and surveyed the four directions. The land curves and slithers upon the water like a serpent. The song of the eagle rings true and clear. Two men are in view, the Sagamore educates a Bay Colonist Man:

 “The Earth is our Mother for she gives us all we need to survive. The Sky is our Father; in our tongues, he is Wakan Tanka, Tunkashila, Gitche Manitou, Creator, he is of many names and is the Great Spirit! We pray to the Four Winds and the Four Directions. We are all Creator’s children, his Daughters, and Sons and we should never be fighting!” 

In the hands of the Sagamore are the Four Turtles, one of each age; Infant, Child, Adult, and Elder. Four roped collars connected them. The Sagamore placed the Turtles in the water and removed their collars. As they swam, the Elder Turtle looked back to the shore as the Colonist and Sagamore bid him farewell. The Four Turtles swam into the Bay. I awake in bed.




The Craftsman

He planned to fashion wind chimes
from their chipped long bones and dried sinews.
So many years spent in preparation —
he imagined the night breezes of autumn
producing a wild dark dance between
ulna, femur, and radius.
An elegy, a lament, 
          a lullaby.

And he did. In unlit corners
of his soundless basement. He carved,
drilled, screwed, and strung.
But the music generated
was disharmonious and clumsy,
not at all the melodic tribute he’d intended.
The chimes hung heavy on the branch
and flies chased each other between the empty spaces.
He began again, switching dry spine
with the dull spotted steel of his slicing tools.
Stringing the bloodstained blades, he saw them reflected
in the metal,
each knife an eternal mirrored trap of their open mouths,
hair plastered to cheeks by rivers of their tears.

Their mute screams caught the morning sun just right,
swaying from a rusty hook near his bedroom window
and when the winds of October came at last,
he slept peacefully, lulled into Nod
by their unanswered cries for rescue.

Patricia Gomes is the New Bedford poet laureate. patriciagomes.com




Don’t Hold Your Breath

Imagine 

Finding yourself 

Being pulled underwater. 

The current taking you out

Into the deep.

You

Try your best

To paddle your feet to the surface.

Gasping

Gagging

Eyes bulging for oxygen. 

And the weight of your ankles

Never have the strength 

To shake off the anchors 

Holding you down.

The chain of subjection.

The more you struggle

The more

The rust of the iron 

Cuts into the calves.

Blood introduces the oppression 

Of other predators.

Racism 

Discrimination 

Police Brutality 

Profiling 

Redlining 

Gentrification 

Privatized Prisons.

Lungs filled with ocean. 

Blacked out.

Being pulled Into the outer darkness.

It’s a wonder why 

We are stereotyped on swimming.

Afraid to test the water.

Never taken lessons. 

Always second guessing 

How cold it is

How deep it can get.

How long can you hold your breath?

Until

Emmitt Till is found 

In Tallahatchie River?

Until 

They’re ready to give penicillin 

To Macon County sharecroppers?

Until Eric Garner 

And George Floyd 

Get their second wind?

We put our hands up

To be rescued.

Waving a white flag in hopes

Of a fitted life jacket.

Instead

Body bagged

Toe tagged

Target practice for the next

Victim.

It’s not that we just can’t breathe

But we’ve been out of breath

Since slave catchers and dog bites.

We’ve been 

Back of the Bus tired.

We’ve been

Klan rally gag ordered. 

We’ve been

Vietnam Frontlined.

We’ve been

Flint water poisened.

Hell

Being short of breath

And

Asthmatic 

Tends to be life’s custom.

To be an American 

Is one thing.

To be an African American 

Well…

Let’s just see how long

You can hold your breath.




The ABCs of a Woman

(Sung)

Sister,

You’ve been on my mind

Sister, we’re two of a kind

So sister,

I’m keepin’ my eyes on you

I betcha think

I don’t know nothin’

But singin’ the blues

Oh sister, have I got news for you

I’m somethin’

I hope you think

That you’re somethin’ too

(Spoken)

You are something, more than something. There aren’t enough letters in the alphabet, words in the dictionary, to properly portray the power and persistence of the double X chromosome.

Awesome Amazons, Aphrodites

Blessed bohemians 

Courageous CEOs

Destined dynamites and deep dive diplomats

Experienced energizers

Fierce feminists

God’s gifts

Honorable hustlers

Implied igniters

Juicy joys

The keeping kind of kin

Limitless leaders

Mind-blowing mothers in a man’s world

(Sung)

This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world

But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

(Spoken)

We stand him up when he can’t do anything other than take a knee

We are the whoa in woman

We are the womb, a safe space in the face of honor killings, objectifying ooglers, constant combat, sex trafficking, marital rape and non-equitable pay 

82 cents for every dollar a man gets

59 cents if you are a Black woman

50 cents if you are a Latina

We sometimes have to yell into a void

Pursue when we are tired of trying

Take on responsibilities that aren’t ours

Run into burning, systematic racism fires

Even at our worst and perhaps the most dishonest place in our birthright, omnipotence oozes from our perfect, passionate pores.

We are the glue, fuel, key, the drumbeat for the best rap battle. 

We are the push and the pull an elastic, safety pin and paper clip – sometimes all at one

We are the needed vaccine

We bind what is broken with body, soul and bridge building bravery and beauty

We get it done, sometimes with a smize, wink, sashay or hair toss while surpassing the odds.

There are indeed not enough words to eloquently explain the exquisiteness of an effeminate

Notorious notables

Opulent optimists

Poised packages, princesses

Quintessential queens

Righteous resonators and responsible rock stars

Scintillating sisters

Tenacious, timeless teachers

Uplifting unicorns

Vivacious victors

Woke warriors

Exceptional extraordinaries

Yelp-worthy yen

Zealous zeniths

Zeniths that illuminate with the brightest bulbs and most significant superstars. Strong winds can’t break us. 

(Sung)

I’m every woman, it’s all in me

Anything you want done, baby

I’ll do it naturally

I’m every woman, it’s all in me

I can read your thoughts right now

Every one from A to Z

Whoa, whoa whoa= oh oh

Whoa, whoa wo-man

Watch this piece performed: fb.watch/4qhvse_kr5; For more, Facebook: @YourWingsRReady Twitter: @AlishaPina




Black Culture in the Classroom: An interview with educator Phoenyx Williams

I recently had the opportunity to interview two amazing educators at the Providence Academy Middle School, Andreana Thomas and Phoenyx Williams. This is the second in a two-part series of interviews that will take you on a journey through Black joy, Black culture, educational struggles and more using film, poetry, and education as the tools for success. 

Phoenyx Williams is an educator at Providence Academy Middle School.

Damont Combs (Motif): How are you using art and poetry in your classroom and why is it important?

Phoenyx Williams: Currently I am teaching an enrichment course on the poetics of hip hop.  This course is important for several reasons.  Hip hop culture has been diluted over the years, and although it can be a very effective tool for communication, it can also be used as a distraction and can hold young people back from reaching their full potential.  It is also important for young people to be able to identify their feelings and emotions in a creative, constructive outlet.  

DC: How have the students grown learning this art and how have they improved the community?

PW: The students have been able to write original haikus, spoken word pieces, and even a limerick or two. We have also put together a Beat Tape that you can check out on our SoundCloud Page, featuring students from our Beat Making Expedition course. 

DC: What is one lesson you try to teach to every student?

PW: One lesson I try to teach every student is that they all have a unique story to share with the world. They matter. They have something worth saying and worth listening to.

DC: What is the importance of Black culture and learning that in the classroom?

PW: The importance of Black culture in the classroom is something that cannot be understated. For far too long black culture has been left out or villainized in the classroom. It is important for all students of all cultures to understand and appreciate the contributions Black culture has made to the arts and the various fields of education and study.

DC: How can we support the school system and help improve the lives of our youth?

PW: We all can support the school system by showing an active interest in our scholars. This interview is an excellent example of that. By showing interest and investing in our scholars we all help improve the lives of our young people.

Below is a student-written poem called “Black Joy.”

Black Joy 

A collaborative poem by D. London, C. Richardson, T. Miller, P. Williams and AF Scholars

sunday dinners at nana’s house, arguments with my brother, the smell of my mother in-laws cooking

Black Joy is A FRESH HAIRCUT!

black joy is music arts actors athletes and food 

black joy is hopscotch and manhunt

family

black joy is fatherhood

baby hood

black is loud!

black joy is being a big brother

hard working

black joy is family reunions and cook outs

celebrating one another

dancehall music

black joy is what the world needs

shoes

hbcu’s

activist

information spreaders

black joy is knowledge!

black joy is art

love

clothes

jobs

taray

black joy magical

black joy is black love 

we need more black teachers and doctors 




Black Joy: An interview with Providence Academy Middle School dean Andreana Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to interview two amazing educators at the Providence Academy Middle School, Andreana Thomas and Phoenyx Williams. This is the first part in a two-part series of interviews that will take you on a journey through black joy, black culture, educational struggles and more using film, poetry, and education as the tools for success. 

Andreana Thomas is the dean of motivation and investment at Providence Academy Middle School.

Damont Combs (Motif): What does black joy mean to you? 

Andreana Thomas: Literally the word joy just spreading throughout the black community in a positive way.

I think that sometimes, our communication, our community can be deemed in like a negative way or the type of music that we listen to, but we bring so much more joy than that. We contribute our culture, and our culture is actual joy and it allows people throughout the world to connect. So yeah, that’s black Joy.

DC: You’re working on a documentary. Can you tell me more about it?

AT: We’re working on a showcase for black history month and the theme of it is black joy — just bringing out that black joy, finding people in the Providence community who are doing things within their community to show that black joy and excellence. We have had many events throughout the black history month, paint and sips, yoga sessions, panels, wellness Wednesdays.

We’ve done a lot of different things to bring black joy into our school building regardless if we are virtual or if we’re actually in person. It’s been able to connect, not just the black community, but all communities within the school. To come together and just learn more about the black culture in a positive light.

DC: What is black excellence?

AT: When we go above and beyond. When we go and do different things that one does not expect us to do as a black culture. Being a principal, being a dean, being a poet and doing things for the community, being a producer, being a president and being vice president is going above and beyond the ordinary that they put us in the little box to be.

DC: I know that COVID has been very challenging on teachers and deans and school staff. How can we help our youth’s educators and encourage teachers during this time?

AT: Yeah. I think that people don’t really recognize that teachers are essential workers as well. Teachers have probably one of the most underpaid jobs yet. It takes a lot of their personal time and investment. This is different. It’s a different atmosphere. It takes a lot of partnership with families. It takes a lot of connection with families to really bring on that idea of that.

It takes a village to really, you know, raise a kid and provide them with the right education that they need. I think that teachers need support during this time from people because we’re human beings too. And we have days when we’re upset or it’s hard for us to get through. We’re going through our personal things.

And I think that people just always expect them to show up with a smile on their face and just get the job done. But this is more than a job. If you’re in this field, you want it because you care and you love the kids and you want to see them do great things. So just making the space for teachers to like mentally be supported through this process is huge.

DC: I met you through Phoenyx Williams, a wonderful performer and is also a fellow teacher here at this wonderful institution. How is poetry used in education here? 

AT: Yeah. So Mr. Phoenyx brought a great program here, hip hop and poetry. Kids are allowed to join in the class, different trimesters.

So he gets a different rotation of kids, so they have the different experience. They do things like make beats, and then they learn about the different types of poems and then they end up doing a final project on what that poem is. We also have a writing unit based off of poetry.

I do think that we can do more, as far as like poetry slams and things like that for the kids to allow their creativity to come out more rather than it being so much structured. But I think that as a school, as a charter network, we have the freedom to do things like hip hop and poetry and create those type of courses for individuals.

DC: What positive change can you make right now?

AT: Use your social media platform. Use it in a positive way. Build your community. Don’t break them down. Continue to use your voice because your voice is powerful. No matter what age you are, continue to use it in a positive way. 

Please check out Andreana Thomas’ amazing documentary called BLACK JOY here: youtube.com/watch?v=bxE5EVi5zyA&feature=youtu.be




Saying it Out Loud: Teen poetry competition gives students the tools to reflect

Teens, poetry and excitement seem like an unlikely combination – but therein lies the magic of Poetry Out Loud. Since 2005, the program has been engaging new generations of students to not only read, but to embrace the rich legacy of this art form by competing to recite a poem, thereby making it their own.

Poetry Out Loud is an arts education program and competition created by The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. By working in partnership with state arts agencies, the program has grown to reach more than 4 million students and 65,000 teachers from 16,000 schools. It fulfills a crucial need that has only grown since the advent of the pandemic – an accessible educational program that really motivates students to learn.

“Poetry, when I was a girl, was done in junior high school,” said Martha Lavieri, program coordinator for Poetry Out Loud RI. “Some ancient English teacher would ask us to memorize ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and it had no meaning to me at all.” She noted that for students today, the concept of poetry has been affected by rap and spoken word. “Cadence has changed, storytelling has changed, and social justice dominates the issues expressed,” Lavieri told us. “It is far more culturally sensitive, which is a good thing.”  

Competitors are asked to recite one poem from a curated anthology, and this year’s collection is one that high school students can really connect to; the Foundation has been responsive to students’ and teachers’ desire for poems that reflect ethnic diversity and cultural issues. “We feel like we are working with an organization that is listening,” said Lavieri. “They’ve been doing an outstanding job.”

Rhode Island is fortunate to have Kate Lohman and Motif poetry curator Damont Combs to assist in facilitating the program in local classrooms. Both Lohman and Combs are teaching artists who offer a wealth of experience in writing and performing.

Lohman said, “I teach oral communication at Providence College and even there it’s hard for students to begin. A poem can get you talking about a topic … something as personal as being lonely. Teens, especially, have intensely complex emotions, but they don’t always have language for what they’re feeling. Poems give them a place to start and the means to reflect and process.” 

“There’s such courage in these kids,” said Lavieri. “It’s not just the poems or the competition – there’s a personal story for each one of them. I can’t think of anything that I’ve done in terms of work or career that’s given me as much satisfaction as this has – watching the strength of these kids and the dedication of the teachers.” 

Poetry Out Loud is supported in RI by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Learn more at the national website poetryoutloud.org. On March 21 at noon, the 2021 state finals will be streamed live on Zoom; tune in on May 2 for the national semi-finals, and on May 27 for the final match. All events are open to the public – find the Zoom link and updates at facebook.com/Poetryoutloudri.