Poetry and Pottery Builds Community Bridges in Manitou Springs

“Robert, I wonder if you can help us?”

Every Wednesday afternoon in the summer, Poetry and Pottery appears in Soda Springs Park in Manitou Springs. Potters and writing mentors set up pottery wheels, a kiln, and tables full of writing materials for anyone who want to come express themselves in art. We have about 50-60 people a week participate in the two hours we are set up: writing poems, making pots, and enjoying the company of others who are doing the same thing.

Robert has become a regular participant this summer. Healthy looking with a well-kept beard and a happy smile, Robert lives rough somewhere in the mountains around Manitou Springs. We always have soup with protein in it, and he relies on it to help him regulate his diabetes. His illness is otherwise untreated.

Although Robert lives alone in a tent away from others, he is a steadying influence when he is on the street. He helps the other unhoused people find what they need, provides encouragement, and he tends to calm people down.

He says he doesn’t write, but he does talk. I’ve acted as his scribe a few times as he talked about life and getting along with others. I am not sure if he can read and write, but he enjoys it when I read back to him what I heard him say. “That does sound like a poem!” he chuckles.

During Poetry and Pottery two weeks ago, two police officers came through Soda Springs Park. I greeted them and asked how they were. They had been called because some of the street people who were cat calling women tourists along Manitou Avenue nearby.

“Of course, we were another call when this one came in, and we had another one to get to first.”

The officers were frustrated, but it seemed like business as usual. They had missed the culprits. And then they saw Robert under the pavilion, sitting at the writing table. The officers approached Robert and asked him if he could help them out with the cat callers.

“I’ll talk to them about it,” I heard Robert say. “We have some new, young guys, and they are real knuckleheads.”

The police officers thanked Robert and walked away with a handful of flyers about Poetry and Pottery to share with folks as they continued their rounds. We could all do each other a favor today.

When we started Poetry and Pottery three years ago, Mark Wong, the pottery part, wanted to take back the park, to make it a positive community place. Manitou Springs had had some violent incidents at Soda Springs Park; Mark wanted to change that. I, Molly Wingate, wanted to provide the street people with a tool for processing some of their trauma so that they can be more at ease, make better decisions, and know that the community cares about their wellbeing.

We had hoped that people from different parts of the community would connect and collaborate on making art and making Manitou Springs more livable. And we have seen other some evidence — fewer problems between the police and the street people and more locals joining the tourists and street people at Poetry and Pottery. But the sight of the police asking Robert for assistance during Poetry and Pottery was pretty clear evidence that we are building bridges and expanding the idea of community. They worked together to keep the peace.

Maybe I’ll get Robert to tell me a poem about it.

Teen Writers Take Over Class

Landmark Community SchoolI had written a writing prompt on the white board before I went to fetch the students for the after school writing group. Landmark Community School is a safe place for teens in recovery from addiction. The kids are terrific.

“What I would l like to change?” was the prompt. Jason and Aubrey* sat down on one side of the table and I across from them, a typical teacher spot. I mentioned that there was a prompt on the board behind them and that we could write a group poem if they liked. Jason picked up the marker, walked straight to the board, and wrote that he wanted to change the laws about medical marijuana. Then he handed Aubrey the marker. She wrote “the juvenile justice system.” Jason stepped up, added numbers to the list, and added #3. This went on until there were 13 items listed. Including “my resistance to change,” and “schools thinking everyone learns the same way.”

The teacher, me, didn’t move. I said, “Thank you, can you be more specific? Help me understand.”

The students had taken over and used the opportunity of a blank white board for their own purposes. And we had a poem of sorts. When they wrote on their own, one used a fill-in-the-blank template, while the other wrote freely. She didn’t want to share her work, so I asked her to read it to herself.

“Make sure you’ve been concrete, get to something you can pinch.” She bowed her head, scratched out some words, replaced them. Soon there were arrows to the margins with words racing down the edge. She looked up. “If you are taking the trouble to write about something, you might as well get down to it,” I said. She bowed her head again. And when she lifted it, said, “I like it.”

Jason wanted to read his new poem while Aubrey quietly found her folder and tucked in her poem. I will keep my promise not to read what is in their folders without their permission. Jason now has at least one poem without the word “fuck” in it. “See you next time.”

*These are not the students’ real names.

“Do I have to write if I sit down?”

A table full of poetry writing tools proves to be a magnet for veterans working on addiction recovery.

“Of course not. You can just hang out with us.”

That is how Poetry Heals started for two residents of Crawford House on Wednesday evening. They are living at Crawford House while they attend the Veteran Administration’s  substance abuse program. Trying to get sober and stay that way this time.

So they came into the conference room where two other people were writing away. I showed them our book of fill-in-the-blank poem templates and some sample poems that grew out of them.

I explained, “This is what everyone is doing.  Just working on a template.”

These two were really waiting to clean the conference room.  Each resident has a job to help maintain Crawford house in some way:  clean up meals, clean up the building. So they had their clear plastic gloves on, ready to dive into the guest bathroom.

After a few quiet minutes, one of the guys in gloves asked, “Hey, can I have a pencil?”

Kevin had picked,  the “I Thought You Should Know” template. With his gloves on, he got started. Austin wanted a pencil, too. The room went silent. Five heads bowed. And I just about grinned my face into a cramp.

At first, only the house manager and I were in the conference room. All the residents had ducked out with “I don’t write,” “I’m too tired,” “I am sick.” But as we sat there and talked, the manager started to write. And then the others literally trickled in. If I had worked only with the manager, I would have been satisfied. She has stuff to work on. But then there were 4 men, all struggling with addiction and some with homelessness, too.

Kevin filled all the blanks and announced, “I’m done.”

“Do you have any more to say about the poem.”

“Yeah.”

“Well you’ve come this far with your feelings, you better finish it up!”

He pulled out a piece of paper and kept writing for another 15 minutes.

Kevin read his poem about how he is sorry he had  been a lousy role model for his younger siblings and how he wants to get together with them again. Austin wrote about how his addiction has his number. Jim wrote about how he is addicted to loving his family, and that’s a good thing. Gilbert wrote about how he wants to be a better person. They listened to each other, they celebrated each other, they smiled and they want to do more of this poetry writing thing.

The evening broke up with a couple of guys taking blank templates to work on later. The plastic gloves had come off somewhere along the line, so they were put back on. Time for chores. Everyone helped me pack up.

Echoes of “See you again, soon” “Thanks for coming” “I’ll be here next time, too” sent me back into the cold night with a very warm heart.

 

 

“I think I’ll get back to writing, now.”

Finally we settled into writing poems using the fill-in-the-blank templates Poetry Heals carries around in binders. These templates help writers look at their feelings. He picked ‘Relationships,’ and added,”But I don’t write anymore.”

At first, he was busy fixing mocha drinks for everyone and chattering about everything. He wasn’t sure he wanted to stay for the after school writing group at Inside/Out Youth Services.

Then he sat down and played a writing game with the group a few times. His first contributions were goofy, a little off topic, and intended to get a laugh. Then he worked to make his additions really connect with the stories we were creating out of random characters, scenes, and props. Not so many edgy jokes.

Finally we settled into writing poems using the fill-in-the-blank templates Poetry Heals carries around in binders.  These templates help writers look at their feelings. He picked ‘Relationships,’ and added,”But I don’t write anymore.”

So I chimed in, “I’ll scribe for you. Take a look at the whole poem and see where you want to go with it.”  A few seconds passed.

He snatched up a pen, “I’ve got it, now.”

And for ten minutes, the room was quiet as four writers and two Poetry Heals mentors wrote.

“I’m stuck on this one,” he nudged me to look at an empty blank in a line.

“Ok, what happens if we change ‘parent’ to ‘friend’, does that help?”

“Got it.” and then two minutes later, “I’M DONE! I want to read first.”

As the other writers wrapped up their work, he fiddled with a word or two. But he was almost bouncing out of the chair before he smiled and proudly read his new poem.  We clapped, snapped our fingers, and did jazz hands. He beamed.

As others read, he listened hard. He smiled and clapped for them.

“This is actually fun! Can I have a few more of the fill-in-the-blanks?  These are really good to work on…..stuff.  I think I’ll go back to writing.  I wrote before my break up, I wrote for her. But I haven’t since then. Thanks.”

He processed some of his life’s troubles and is willing to do it again. At Poetry Heals, we call that a big win.

 

 

 

What If…

What if there were a portal to another world, right here in Colorado Springs, that you could visit today?

signal-2017-09-09-095721
A visit to a far-away land, and a poem to capture the moment.

It’s not science fiction – and it’s a great reason to write poetry! Come see Poetry Heals at the What If… Festival today until 4 pm. You can’t miss us, because we’re right next to the giant Portal by the Pioneers Museum.

In the Portal, you can connect in real time with people from all over the world. And afterwards, you can write a poem with us about your experience (or anything else you want), like this lovely lady did this morning.

Don’t miss this chance for an amazing experience – it’s free, it’s awesome, and it’s happening right now. See you soon!!

Welcome to our new site!

Welcome to our new (virtual) home.

Hey there! Welcome to our new (virtual) home. We’re thrilled to have a beautiful new website where we can easily share updates about our community projects. Please follow our blog to keep in touch with our work and learn about fun collaborative writing and art opportunities in the Pikes Peak Region.

Peace, love, and poetry for all!

Pikes Peak By Hogs555 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28582992
We love being part of the creative, supportive community of the Pikes Peak Region.