In a workshop led by Muriel Leung and Grace Shuyi Lew, participants were given a blank page and asked to create a monster.
They were to answer three basic questions:
- Where does this monster live?
- What does it look like in its most terrifying state?
- Why do they terrify?
One writer wrote about a monster that lives in tea cups and empty things around her desk. Another lived under floorboards, and another was an embodiment of the writer’s own anger and frustration.
Then, to the horror of some and excitement of others, the participants were asked to trade papers with someone else and develop that person’s monster. They were asked to answer three questions then about the new monster:
- Who can take away the monster’s power?
- What tool can this figure use to take away the monster’s power?
- Is there a set of “magic words” that will put the monster to rest?
There was a scrambling and fluttering of papers as people reached for each other’s creations to inspect and build on them. The leaders of the exercise explained this sort of openness is a way to return to a childlike mentality and willingness to create.
The group explored this mentality through exercises asking them to play, move, breathe and collaborate. They colored without restraint on large blank pieces of paper on the floor. One man stood and drew dozens of bright yellow lines with pastels.
For a few minutes, they did an exercise where they moved like the monsters they had created earlier. While doing this, they were asked to look with their eyes and bodies at other people’s monsters.
Some seemed self-conscious and stiff; others embraced fear and roamed as monsters about the room.
Jen Stein, a writer, teacher and designer who often works with youths, participated in the activity. Stein noted differences between the adults in this workshop and the children she works with.
“Younger kids, even though they’re more aggressive, are far more likely to get down on the floor, crawl around, explore their environment fully, whereas the adults … were very reserved,” she said.
The exercise revealed the awkward, scrambling desire to be children again.
Later in the day, a panel gathered to explore how they deal with all forms of violence in their poetry from urban violence to genocide. From a question posed by one of the panelists, poet Fatimah Ahghar, the five panelists discussed the positive and negative roles of shame.
Asghar explicitly mentioned her poem “To The White Men Who Fear Everything,” in which she says:
of whiteness is terror, food outside of whiteness
is spectacle, land outside of whiteness doesn’t
exist. White men, I know I make you afraid.”
She sparked a conversation about the productive, mobilizing force shame can be in proliferating change around issues about white supremacy and race.
Popular poets sat in the audience and listened. One of these poets was Sarah Kay, who assisted in a workshop on how to conduct workshops. She is a popular spoken word poet often known for her poems “When Love Arrives” and “The Type.”
Kay said she uses poetry as a way of working through difficult situations: “I actually think that poetry for me, as unromantic as it sounds, is like a real puzzle-solving strategy in my brain … I see “poem” as a verb, so like to poem my way through something.”
The festival as a whole seemed to provide a clean and organized venue where artists could gather to talk about something that is anything but clean and organized: poetry. Each event at the festival buzzed heavily with knowledge and passion.
Featured Photo Credit: Poet Danez Smith, deep in thought while fielding a question during the “Won’t You Come Celebrate: A Meditation on Violence(s) in Poetry” discussion panel. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.