Frontier High School – Poetry Workshop

This week’s workshop was at Frontier High School. There were four of us:

IMG_20130726_121950_306VanessaIMG_20130726_122341_182SabrinaIMG_20130726_121003_270 Esteban, our resident street artist, and me.

Thanks to Margie Moriarty, Frontier High principal, and Roxanna Kharaud, school counselor, for their hospitality. Getting around and help was easy.

As was the case with session 3 at Whittier, flexibility and quick familiarity came with the smaller group, and we spent a large amount of time at the whiteboard doing writing exercises.


Words using only one of the five vowels

With this group, we were even more hands on than the previous, and with the three of them, even more collaborative, which, in allowing for greater camaraderie and casualness,  supplied the energy and momentum. I added still more poems mid-week because the students responded better to poems by poets of color and formal elements such as rhyme, rhythm and meter.


Giving concrete images to emotions

Another added element was Youtube videos. We sampled from “Rhyming Orange with Eminem“, Jackie Hill’s Spoken Word piece, “JIG-A-BOO”Maya Angelou reciting “And Still I Rise”, and others for prompt, inspiration, and model.


Bending words, after Eminem


Riffing on “Esteban” in his absence.

Other writing exercises focused on rhythms and meter,


Whipping out the Spanish


a response to Angelou’s “Still I Rise”,


“On the Rise”


Reading it out loud to make sure it sounds right.

and a villanelle after Bishop’s “One Art”.


“We too broke”

Poems I added this workshop: Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”, Countee Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel”, Langston Hughes’ “Life is Fine”, Audre Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival”.

My favorite story from the students: when a student tells you she put up a Philip Larkin poem on Instagram and her friends said “that’s dope”, you know the poem’s saying something timeless.


That concludes our summer programming. I’m grateful to school staff who opened their classrooms and to the students who opened their hearts and minds and let me in.

Here’s a collaborative poem, pictured above:

On the Rise

You may chase me down the alley

with your badge and guns.

You can hate my art

but like life I’m getting up.

Does my baggie clothes offend you?

Is my art vandalism?

I’m running like wildfire

spreading through the city.

I’m hanging on a freeway overpass

to catch a heaven spot.

Like billboards throughout the city,

still, I’m on the rise.

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Whittier High School – Poetry Workshop Session 3

We  concluded the last of the workshops at Whittier High School (Note: the second workshop was canceled due to low turnout). While only two showed up for the third, they were interested in staying the week so we forged ahead with the small group of us. We had a blast, but lots to learn on our end about getting the word out to the students.

Thanks again to Lori Eshilian, principal of Whittier High School, who continued to support us by advertising the workshop over the telephone version of mass email.

One feedback from the first group had to do with how much they enjoyed collaborative exercises, so we spent much more time this third week doing exercises that allowed for cross-pollination. I’m thankful the students were willing to be open with each other, which made the small class size a luxury.


Coming up with a list of words that only use one of the vowels.


The hardest were multi-syllabic words.

Another luxury of small class size was the time to get to know each other. Each day of the workshop was guided by a theme, which was useful in helping us get acquainted  with each other about our dreams, race, family, free time, personal struggles and so on.


Cartography of Whittier High School, including where what kinds of people hang out.


L: Cultural and Ethnic background
R: WHS Tunnel, which turned into a poem.

Because there were only three of us, we took as much time in our exercises, readings and writings as we needed, and prioritized learning together over “curriculum”. We didn’t go over all the poems I had prepared nor did I sense the need to. In fact, on Wednesday, I added poems (“I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman, “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes, and “the mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks) and discussed our responses to the trial of George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin as well as how we navigated assumptions and misunderstandings .


Exercise in rhythm: alternatively add lines that have different number of beats.

We must have spent a third of our time together standing up and at the whiteboard. One of my favorite exercises was to come up with the most farfetched rhyme to words we had compiled over the week.


If you’ve never rhymed lemur with beamer, or sparkle with patriarchal, it’s not too late.

Next week, we’re at Frontier High School. Stayed tuned for updates.


Euphonium performance on the last day.

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Whittier High School – Poetry Workshop Session 1


This summer, we are offering (4) week-long poetry workshops at Whittier High and Frontier High and we’ve just completed our first at Whittier High School. I’m thankful to the students that came with eagerness to interact and be challenged. Also, many thanks for the administrative staff, especially the principal, Lori Eshilian, for her hospitality and support.

We had an average of 7 students and while I prepared to have 10, the smaller size gave everyone more time to share their thoughts. Two of the students brought their friends who attended other schools, which was exciting!IMG_20130626_082406_889

We spent a lot of time talking about words as material and words as tools for communication. So each day, we added to a list of words that we liked for no other reason than the sound and texture of a word. And yes, there was a writing exercise at the end with this list.


And there were others lists as well. More pictures here because I remembered to take them.

Students listing rhymes

Students listing rhymes

Rhyme a different part of speech

“Rhyme words from different parts of speech”

Rhyme two words with different number of syllables

“Rhyme two words that are of different number of syllables”

We also spent time getting to know the group. Turns out that many of them knew each other a little already, so they got relatively comfortable quickly. IMG_20130627_082857_058

Depending on the day and the poem, we began either with a writing exercise or with close reading of a poem.

For one of our exercises we each took a cliché to reexamine and turn on its head. One student started with “a face that only a mother could love” and ended up with —and this still haunts me— “a wall that only a convict could love”. IMG_20130628_110212_287

To list a few poems we read in class:

“Eunoia” by Christian Bök, excerpts

“When Loneliness is a Man” by Yosef Komunyakaa

“Freeway 280” by Lorna Dee Cervantes

“Bicycle Texture.” by Sawako Nakayasu

“Bilingual/Bilingüe” by Rhina P. Espaillat

“sarah’s promise” by Lucille Clifton

“Elegy for Jane” by Theodore Roethke



Analysis of Lorna Dee Cervantes’ “Freeway 280”


Writing a villanelle

The students also came to class with a poem assigned to them from the day before for workshop and we’d spend the latter third of the class reading each other’s poems and wrestling with how the poems were working.


We also had collaborative writing exercises, one of which had us supplying a line each to one another’s poems but still keeping the content intact. We knew, when several poems turned inexplicably dark or silly, which one of us it was that did it.


Some comments from the students about the class:

(regarding most interesting exercises)

“Group creating poems. It helped me figure out other styles of poetic writing by my peers.”; “The group work, even though I prefer writing alone.”; “group poetry writing because everyone’s ideas were so broad and it was great to connect to others on an equivalent topic.”

(regarding what they enjoyed about the class)

“small personal size of the class. Teamwork. Writing in class. Time given to talk. Everyone was genuinely interested on staying on task and writing.”; “learning different styles and how you can write and how your writing affects the message of the poem”; “Being exposed to new poets and having the opportunity to write poetry.”

(regarding what was challenging)

“writing the villanelle poems were challenging but extremely fun!”; “Analyzing new poetry and writing poetry”; “pushing myself to use different styles”; “Analyzing poems through sound, accents, etc.”;”the villanelle because it constricted how you could express your thoughts and you had to create 2 lines you wouldn’t hate to hear repetitively. I loved writing it though!”


One was a songwriter so she performed for us on the last day of class!

Other poems the students heard or discussed or was included in the packet:

“Coolness” – Yosa Buson (transl. by Robert Bly, I think)

“On love, on grief, on every human thing” – Walter Savage Landor

“The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart” – Jack Gilbert

“Cornflowers” – Brenda Cárdenas

“La Bouderie” – Allison Benis White

“The Wild Iris” – Louise Glück

“Hidden” – Naomi Shihab Nye

“To a Newborn” – Amy Gerstler

“Sheherazade” – Richard Siken

“the water buffalo” – Shaun Tan

“Milk the Mouse” – Michael Ryan

“He had enough respect for painting” – Ben Lerner

“To the Young Anglerfish” – Kay Ryan

“lifeline” – Evie Shockley

“My Papa’s Waltz” – Theodore Roethke

“One Art” – Elizabeth Bishop

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Summer Poetry Workshops – Details

If for some reason the pdf files are not showing on the older posts, as is the case some times, here are the details in text:

Whittier High School:

Session 1: June 24-28; 9:00am-12:00pm

Session 2: July 8-12; 9:00am-12:00pm

Session 3: July 15-19; 9:00am-12:00pm

Frontier High School:

Session 1: July 22-26; 12:00pm-3:00pm

All workshops are Free of Charge and open to all grades 9-12

Email or contact Mike Liaw at 562-755-4000; include i) your name, ii) your grade, iii) school, and the iv) session you desire.

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Summer Poetry Workshop @ Whittier High School and Frontier High School

Come join us for an intensive, one-week workshop, where we will learn to i) read various poems about love, identity, family, dreams, etc.,  ii) write your own poems, iii) workshop each others’ poems and iv) perform the poems that you’ve worked on. No prior experience necessary!

There will be (3) classes offered at Whittier High School and (1) at Frontier High School.

See attached flyer for contact information:

AFW - WHS - WummerAFW - Frontier - Summer



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Arts for LA: “Whittier Arts Education Community Meeting”, 05/24/13

Lou Henry Hoover Elementary School

Abe Flores from Arts for LA convened a group of us from Whittier with vested interests in the arts today at Lou Henry Hoover Elementary School (“of Fine Arts” their board decided recently to add). This was to continue discussions about what advocacy looked like here in Whittier.

The main topic that Abe wanted us to decide on today was about the target audience of our advocacy. Did we want help in mobilizing our city officials? Our local non- and for-profit organizations? Our parents? Our youth? Our seniors? And we also needed to discuss the medium of communication to reach the elected audience.

What a fascinating conversation we had! The conversation began with interest in targeting our parents as our main allies we needed to equip. Since I have not interfaced much with the parents yet in my work at ArtForms, I listened for a while. The conversation then took a turn towards building alliances with the city officials because of the resources and weight available to them. The reality, expressed several school administrators, was that there was no parent who complained about the arts (meaning support exists), but that there was a great need for money. The lack of financial capital was a need that took priority for many of us.

Abe was frank with us: in his experience, mobilizing city officials and local organizations is much easier and less time-consuming than organizing parents. I agree with him.

As I process the meeting, I’m intrigued by how community organizing works. No doubt, those listed as target audience, and those not listed, all have an important part to play in the embrace of arts as an integral part of the society. And no doubt, because we don’t have the resources to reach out to all parties at one go, one group needs to be prioritized.

On the one end of the spectrum are the government officials, the smallest in number but the largest in immediate and organized resource and power. On the other end are the youths, the largest in number but with the least immediate and organized resource and power. Somewhere in between, though not mid-way, are the local businesses (on the spectrum near government officials) and the parents (near the youths).

Of these four people groups, I can see Abe’s experience and agree that the most difficult to mobilize are the parents, and for that same reason, I think that parent are the most important group to mobilize. I understand and support the direction of this committee to reach out in the immediate future to the government officials. As a short-term goal, this makes most sense. As a long-term goal, I would love to see an empowerment of parents.

In this regard then, a few observations:

In terms of influence:

  1. These are Parents to their children who the parents can support and encourage participation in the arts.
  2. These are Colleagues and Friends to their peers, especially those with children, with whom the parents likely share common interests and goals.
  3. These are Patrons and Consumers of their local businesses, from whom the parents can solicit support – financial in monetary donations or material in supply donations or facility/space usage donations. Imagine a parent asks the owner of a restaurant she frequents to open up a patio for a weekend musical performance; imagine asking a shop owner to let her window be a rotating canvas for student mural work; imaging asking a paint shop to donate returned and unresalable buckets of paint; imagine, imagine! Can this make up for the lack of financial capital?
  4. These are Electorates to their elected officials, to whom policy lobbying can be directed.

Communications to the parents can take the forms of:

  1. Pre-event meetings
  2. Events communicated over Facebook
  3. Building familiarity with the vernacular of the creative industry:
    1. Inner-City Arts” sends children back with a list of questions about the art process and art work that the parents can ask their children in order to assist not only interaction but bridge the gap in comfort and ability to talk about art.
    2. During exhibitions/presentations, to have pre-event meetings led by students who would explain the artwork
    3. “Inner-City Arts” also conducts regular family art workshops during which both parents and children participate in the same art form.
    4. I should acknowledge the amount of work that is involved in this portion of relationship building.
    5. Individual stories: I can’t emphasize how important it is for those involved in this committee to be listening to the parents, documenting and encouraging those with powerful stories to speak on behalf the arts as testimony to others in their spheres of influence as listed about.

And finally, why I think it’s important to reach out to the parents:

  1. Parents are, of this list of people, the most naturally sacrificial. That is, it is closest to instinct for parents to be concerned about the welfare of someone other than themselves. And this makes them powerful.
  2. I know that Abe has expressed the primary goal of his work as the equal access for the children to a complete education (which includes the arts). He, and Arts for LA, would not disagree as to the importance of community empowerment and resiliency, but I understand that the scope of their organization can’t responsibly embrace this as the primary goal. We would both agree that the presence of the arts in a community is correlated to its empowerment and resiliency. This is the primary reason I hope to see advocacy towards the parents in the near future. If we can empower the parents to influence in at least the ways described above, the stakes they have in the success of the arts for the sake of their children not only rises but the empowerment to be resourceful and build deeper communities increases. This is like renewable energy.

The next meeting we’ll be talking about the message: what in the world do we want to communicate?

Stay tuned!

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LA County Arts Commission, Civic Art Open Hours “Artists as Educators in the World of Civic Art Public Engagement”, 04/29/2013

On April 29th, 2013, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Civic Art division hosted an Open Office Hours to discuss matters related to “Arts Education” and “Civic Arts”.

Some basic introduction from Margaret Bruning, Director of Civic Art:

Guiding principles for adjudicating civic art proposals:

  1. Technical and Aesthetic Quality
  2. Innovative use of Material
  3. Civic Engagement – Community Participation
  4. Site-Specificity – Place-making
  5. Transformation

I found these criteria helpful and comprehensive for framing how to craft public art proposals.

Some projects of note:

1. Fallen Fruit at Del Aire Park, Hawthorne: Providing an urban orchard that is sustained, nurtured and harvested by the public.

Fallen Fruit of Del Aire

2. Mobile Mural Lab at Dockweiler Beach:

“Where We Are From”

3. Didier Hess at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park Interpretive Center (Active project):

Then three panelists presented. The panelists were:

  1. Amy Shimshon-Santo, Assistant Director and Foundation Relations at Art Center College of Design.
  2. Laura Creed, Independent Curator and Art Historian
  3. Marina Magalhães, Assistant Artistic Director and Teaching Artist at Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater.

Things thatstood out from the presentations:

Amy Shimshon-Santo:


1. Concerns of Arts Eduction:

  • Curriculum
  • Strands and Standards
  • Arts Integration
  • Common Core
  • Public & Private Funding
  • Literacy, Numeracy, Vocation, Culture

2. Concerns of Civic Arts:

  • Place and Space
  • Identity and Public Meaning
  • Redevelopment
  • Gentrification
  • % of construction for art funding
  • Safety, Commerce, Beautification

3. The common grounds between arts education and civic arts are i) Creative Practice and ii) Social/Environmental Change.

Laura Creed:



Laura discussed briefly the theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner, which is a model of intelligence that differentiates the mind into several different categories. I’ll only list them here; information is readily available online.

  1. Linguistic/Verbal
  2. Logical/Mathematical
  3. Musical/Rhythmic
  4. Bodily/Kinesthetic
  5. Spatial
  6. Naturalist
  7. Intrapersonal
  8. Interpersonal
  9. Existential

Marina Magalães



  1. Difference between “Community Engagement” and “Outreach”: Outreach is a method of interaction with the community that assumes a powerful and knowledgeable center that reaches out, hierarchically, to direct the recipients, by relationship the weaker and less knowledgeable, to the product of the organization. Community Engagement is work that creates an environment of exchange where the product of change is identified by the community as its own and possible.
  2. Because of the focus on Group-driven process, the artist-teachers function also as facilitators, who are trained to be flexible with processes their students recognize as not working and adjust accordingly. The students are empowered in this way to acknowledge what works or doesn’t work, and the classroom experience becomes directed by the group’s interests.
  3. Their goals are to unveil for the community the existence of their assets, to change their perspective one of lack to one of asset; for Contra-tiempo’s work, one’s body is an asset that every person has.
  4. Artist must have willingness to enter into a new territory either of material or media, and be flexible about discovering the art that engages the community that may look different from the artist’s conception. For Contra-tiempo, this looked like introducing text to dance, a change which was driven by wanting to adjust to the Common Core.

Couldn’t stay for the closing comments after the round-table, but thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. A big thanks to LACAC!


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