Poetry Project Origins

October 2017:  Despite the terrible California fires, and after reminding myself that my 2017 New Year’s resolutions were to be brave, speak up and take chances, I decided to, in fact, take a risk and accept a wonderful opportunity from LCC’s Provost’s office and go to UC Davis for the Imagining America Conference along with three other adventuresome colleagues.

LCC had just become one of the few Community College member institutions of the Imagining America consortium which has this as its amazing mission statement:

“The Imagining America consortium (IA) brings together scholars, artists, designers, humanists, and organizers to imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory ‘America’ and world. Working across institutional, disciplinary, and community divides, IA strengthens and promotes public scholarship, cultural organizing, and campus change that inspires collective imagination, knowledge-making, and civic action on pressing public issues. By dreaming and building together in public, IA creates the conditions to shift culture and transform inequitable institutional and societal structures.” https://imaginingamerica.org/about/

The California winds blew in ways that kept the smoke and fires away from the UC Davis campus while other winds pushed me toward choosing one particular conference session that would change my professional and creative life. I continue to appreciate that powerful combination of chance and choice.

For my first IA conference session I attended “Constructing a Community-generated Poem” by Andrew Sullivan, a poet and High School teacher. The session was a wonderful mix of creativity, connection, and potent fertilizer for my own ideas. Andrew showed examples of community-generated poems he had written using responses to questionnaires he had developed.  For example, a beloved teacher at his high school had passed away and as a way to celebrate and mourn this person, Andrew had gathered responses to questions from the students and then crafted a poem of remembrance from those responses.  Another example of a community-generated poem Andrew had written was from gathered responses to an art show. To end the session Andrew asked for volunteers to craft a community-generated poem from the questionnaires he had distributed to all conference participants in our welcome folder. The focus of the questionnaires was “Imagining America” and they were filled with provocative, imaginative questions intended to elicit specific, creative language.  Despite nerves, it was the perfect time for “no one knows me here…” courage 🙂 so I volunteered.

Early morning poets — l to r: Nitya Kimaran, Hilarie Spangler, Anita Lorentzen, Andrew Sullivan, Barb Clauer

We met early in the morning of the last day of the conference, Andrew gave the four volunteers equal but random stacks of returned questionnaires and we set about writing our own stanzas without an overall plan or any direction from Andrew, thankfully.

My handwritten a.m. stanzas

After we had finished, Andrew took all the stanzas and did very little to them beyond finding an “order” and then he read our finished poem titled “Imagining America” at the closing plenary. It was exhilarating.

Link to the full poem titled “Imagining America”


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