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The Poetry Project

Photo: Ted Roeder

I wonder if poetry is going to see an upsurge in our time. Better than any other form of communication, poetry can get to the heart of the matter, expressing important truths and feelings obliquely.

Recently I read about poets who gather annually on New Year’s Day in New York City to share their unique statements. The event is part of what is known as “The Poetry Project.”

“There are three things to consider when the New Year’s Day Poetry Marathon sweeps you into its gracefully uncouth embrace,” says the website, “what it is, what it was, and who you will be when it’s over. An untamed gathering of the heart’s secret, wild nobility — over 140 poets together revealing not just that a better life could exist, but that it already does, sexy and wise, rancorous and sweet, big hearted and mad as hell. …

“Since Anne Waldman gathered 31 poets at the very first marathon on January 2, 1974, countless forward-facing luminaries have thrown their voices into the cauldron — among them Eric Bogosian, William S. Burroughs, Spalding Gray, Jackson Mac Low, Ed Sanders, Pedro Pietri, Helen Adam, John Cage, Joe Ceravolo, John Giorno, Ted Berrigan, Yoko Ono, Amiri Baraka, Gordon Matta Clark, Jim Carroll, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Steve Cannon, Hannah Weiner, Kathy Acker, Arthur Russell, Gerard Malanga, Suzanne Vega, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, and Philip Glass. The list grows every year …

“Whether you stay for a little while or for the long haul, whether you’re part of the standing room only experience at sunset or with the handful of diehards as the final poet reads her last word in the predawn sanctuary, you will be transformed for the year to come. Your presence helps launch a great flare into the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the 21st century night. …

“The Project receives many requests to perform in the Marathon, and we feel fortunate that so many people want to help us meet our fundraising goals. We only have about 150 spots and a seemingly unlimited artistic community to draw from. [Click here for] some basic information about our selection process. …

“Reading is just one way of participating in the event. There are volunteer opportunities (about 100 are needed) to help sell books, food and drink, assist in checking in readers, etc. It’s also an opportunity to meet or catch up with other writers/artists and support the Project’s mission. …

“For photo galleries of past New Year’s Day Marathons, please visit photographer Ted Roeder’s website.”

More about the annual event and how poems get selected, here.

Photo: Deborah Amos/NPR
Elias Kasongo, from Congo, came as a refugee in 1994. Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake, hired him to wash cake pans and, over the years, promoted him to purchasing manager.

See what I mean? I can hardly keep up with all the stories of Americans who help refugees (and refugees who give back). I feel a kind of duty to let you know about them in case they aren’t part of your daily fare.

National Public Radio’s Deborah Amos reported this next story about refugees working in some surprising Chicago businesses.

“In Chicago,” she reports, “war refugees have a hand in the city’s most famous handmade cheesecake.

” ‘People who come as refugees have great skills,’ says Marc Schulman, the president of Eli’s Cheesecake, which has sold cheesecakes and other baked desserts since 1980. One-third of adult refugees arriving in the U.S. have college degrees, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a think tank that tracks the movement of people worldwide. And refugee employment is a successful model for finding skilled workers for a food business that has become high tech, says Schulman.

“A cheesecake at Eli’s is still based on the simple recipe of the founder, the late Eli Schulman, Schulman’s father, who served his famous confections to political leaders and Hollywood stars. Marc Schulman wears the Cartier watch that Frank Sinatra — a regular customer — sent his father in 1987. …

“The mixing and baking are computerized, so the 220 employees have to be highly skilled. Schulman recruits about 15 percent of the workforce from refugees resettled in Chicago. The employee list reflects the waves of flight from war-torn countries — Iraq, Bhutan, Kosovo, Congo, Myanmar.

“Elias Kasongo began working at the bakery in 1994 after fleeing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. …

” ‘I’ve been here at Eli’s for the past 22 years. It’s my home; it’s a beautiful thing,’ says Kasongo, who is now a U.S. citizen. The job was all he had when he was starting his new life in America. Today, he’s a homeowner. …

“Schulman’s hiring strategy is used at other well-known companies in Chicago, including Tyson Foods and Trump International Hotel & Tower.

[!]

” ‘Every major hotel works with a refugee agency,’ says Sean Heraty, manager of workforce development at RefugeeOne. ‘Job retention is through the roof.’

“Employers have ‘awakened to the potential of refugees,’ says Kathleen Newland, at the Migration Policy Institute. That’s because they are hardworking and loyal and tend to stay on the job longer than American-born workers, she says.”

More here.

Refugee Boy Scouts

Photo: Thomas Peipert/AP
Leaders of this Colorado Boy Scout troop say the group helps refugee kids adjust to American culture while providing a safe place where they can be themselves.

It may be surprising, given the news that grabs our attention these days, but stories about ordinary people showing kindness to refugees are everywhere. I can hardly keep up. Consider this KidsPost about a Colorado Boy Scout troop published in the Washington Post January 2, 2017.

“Boy Scouts Jean Tuyishime and Moise Tuyikunde sit around a campfire under a canopy of stars in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, joking and teasing each other as teenage brothers often do. Only 2½ years ago, they were a world away, living at a crowded camp in the central African nation of Rwanda (pronounced ru-WAHN-duh).

“The brothers were born in the Gihembe refugee camp after their parents fled violence in 1996 in what was then known as Zaire (zah-EER). They relocated with their family to the Denver area in 2014, and they gradually became a part of their new surroundings, learning to speak enough English to get by and signing up for a typical American experience — Boy Scouts.

“But the troop Jean, 15, and Moise, 12, joined is not like many others in the United States. Troop 1532 is composed almost entirely of refugees who hail from faraway places such as Burma, Rwanda and Nepal.

“At campouts, such traditional American food as hot dogs and trail burgers is replaced by fish head stew, fire-roasted corn and chatpate, a popular street snack in the Asian country of Nepal. Dessert, however, still includes s’mores. …

“Troop 1532, formed in 2014, could be a model for other Boy Scout groups looking to welcome young refugees. [Justin] Wilson and P.J. Parmar, a doctor who started the troop, say the kids’ backgrounds present challenges that other troops don’t face. Members come and go, which makes it hard to focus on earning merit badges and advancing in rank. …

“Many of the parents have little money and work long, odd hours, which makes it hard to plan meetings. Parmar said the scouts often can’t get to meetings, so he decided to gather only for camping trips. …

“Jean’s father, Jean Batacoka, a 37-year-old housekeeper with five children, says the efforts of Wilson and Parmar have helped his kids.

“ ‘What they do down there is not just leadership, because they learn discipline, how to behave, how to respect people who are older than them,’ he said through a translator. ‘I think it’s a really good thing for them, and I can see something is happening.’ ”

I have nothing but admiration for the men who organized this. Any scout troop requires a big commitment from adult leaders, as some readers of this blog know. The time and energy Troop 1532 leaders give to the unique challenges of refugee Scouts is especially remarkable.

More at the Washington Post, here.

For better or worse, no movement ever dies out completely. The hippies and Rainbow Children of the 1960s seem to have morphed into something called the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a “disorganization” that has annual, playful camp-outs in the wild. (The Wikipedia editors say the entry on the group, here, needs work, but I think it gives you an idea.)

Jessica Rinaldi at the Boston Globe took a lot of photos at the July 2016 gathering in Vermont.

Here’s what she says about the event: “Each year, for a few weeks in summer, a loose confederation of like-minded souls called the Rainbow Family of Living Light quietly converts a site in a public forest somewhere in the United States into a communal living space for thousands.

“Campsites are established, latrines are dug, and an elaborate water filtration system is erected to bring water from nearby streams. While the group’s origin is a bit cloudy, it’s generally accepted that the first ‘official’ gathering of the Rainbow Family was in Colorado in 1972. For the summer of 2016, they gathered in Mt. Tabor.”

Is this the escape you’ve been looking for?

Rinaldi’s photos are available at the Boston Globe, here.

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
The Rainbow Family gathering draws free spirits from across the country, including this man dressed as a tree-like Ent from “The Lord of the Rings” at the 2016 event, held on public land near Mount Tabor, Vermont. Great array of photos to be found here.

At the Eric Carle Museum

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Art: Hilary Knight
Eloise was a favorite of mine back in the day. Art and artifacts related to her history are on display until June 4, 2017, at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass.

I drove out to Amherst yesterday to meet up with Asakiyume at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and have lunch in town. The museum is modern and attractive and features several nice displays, a gift shop, and a studio where kids can do arts and crafts.

If you don’t have another reason to be in the area, as I did, it’s a little far from the Boston suburbs. However, I got a kick out of my tour with Asakiyume, especially because one exhibit was on Hilary Knight, the artist behind the mischievous girl who lives in New York’s Plaza Hotel with her nanny, her pet dog, and her turtle. The display even featured copies of the doll I still have and my Eloise Hotel Emergency Kit.

We saw art by Brinton Turkle and, of course, by Eric Carle. It’s the 50th anniversary of Carle’s book Brown Bear, and it was fun to see all the ways it had been translated. Asakiyume knew how to read the Japanese.

She also picked up a flyer for me about the museum’s “Making Art” blog, which turns out to be loaded with ideas about crafts for kids. Something to check out in addition to Pinterest when brainstorming. In one project example, here, we see how a student intern went about creating a delightful day for both children and adults using feathers in art.

Photo: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
The Art Studio’s J-Term Intern, Tory Fiske, a senior at UMass Amherst, designed a Special Sunday project for museum guests.  She planned the event, sorted and prepared the materials, and introduced visitors to the project throughout the day.

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Here’s a bonus post for you, Dear Reader, from blogger Misty Meadows. Good timing as the snow melts and you think about starting your garden. The eggshell planters are adorable! Love, SuzannesMom

Misty Meadows Homestead & more!

About this time, every year, my heart starts to tire of the winter weather I cherish so much–I doubt there are many who appreciate snow as much as I do.  It’s still a little early for starting seeds, at least here in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8a.  Having grown in zones 8b & 5-6, we are very excited to see what this new zone has in store for us.

Over the past few weeks, our mailbox has been filling up with a delightful assortment of seed catalogs.  They are always so much fun to look through.  My favorites are Territorial Seeds and Baker Creek Seeds.  The Baker Creek Catalog is gorgeous and is more like a coffee table book.

If by chance you are ready for spring, over the next few weeks, we will be giving you some tips to get your 2017 garden off to a great start!…

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Crafts for a Cause

I’ve followed countertenor Terry Barber’s Artists for a Cause for several years. He lines up musicians who, like him, believe in the importance of sometimes donating their talents to a worthy cause. I heard him perform in Rhode Island (check this 2011 post).

Lately, I stared wondering whether other sorts of artists and craftsmen were doing this sort of thing. So I Googled “crafts for a cause” and discovered that someone had used those very words to name a website:

“In 1975, Hetty Friedman first traveled to the Highlands of Guatemala to learn back strap weaving from a Mayan weaver. After that time, Guatemala entered a period of intense political unrest. Thirty two years later, Hetty was able to return. In partnership with Asociación Maya de Desarrollo, a Fair Trade Weaver’s Coop, she is designing unique woven products, training weavers and leading tours. Together they produce a line of hand dyed, hand woven items that are being marketed in the USA.”

Regarding her tours: “Adventurous travelers are provided with a unique exploration of the Guatemala Highland pueblos, Antigua, a Unesco World Heritage City, and visits to various artists and fair trade jewelry and weaving co-ops. Join Hetty on an intimate tour of Guatemala’s fabulous cultural heritage. Lots of guacamole gets eaten.

“Small group travel for women. Meet Mayan artisans, visit Antigua, a Unesco Heritage site, and travel on Lake Atitlan. Great food, wonderful hotels and good company.

“Call 617-512-5344 or email hetty.friedman@gmail.com for details. Contact us to get put on the list for 2018 travel.”

From the nonprofit that Hetty is supporting, “The objective of Asociación Maya de Desarrollo is not to just provide an income for families in post-conflict communities. Asociación Maya also aims to provide an opportunity for women harmed by the war to become leaders in the cooperative, their homes, their communities, and of the Mayan tradition.”

I am filled with admiration.

More at Hetty Friedman Designs, here.

Photo: Hetty Friedman Designs
Weaver Hetty Friedman says, “It all started at age 13 when I took a weaving class at summer camp. It was like a miracle to me.”