Imagine a gnarled willow tree “bursting into a million butterflies” and reappearing as origami. Think of “a shadow, so still—surrounded by teddy bears.” Have you ever felt “like an unread book,” or “like a cold day in Alaska”? Perhaps “like a star in space … lonely among many … small in such a big place.”
Could you write your autobiography in under seven words? “Was born not breathing, but lived,” seems to say it all, as does “Bad start, going for a perfect ending.” We recall life’s perfect moments, such as “the sweet delicious cup of the winter wonder hot chocolate,” or looking at our first baby “so tiny and helpless, destined to be great … a daily reminder that I earned my stripes.”
These quotes are gleaned from various “zines,” printed in limited quantities by schools and group homes participating in Writers in the Community. The program, jointly run by the Quebec Writers’ Federation and The Centre for Literacy, brings professional writers together with young people at risk, 14-24, for a 10-week journey of discovery.
As facilitator Marie-Eve Bourassa, working with young adults, writes in a foreword: “No matter who you are, no matter how old you are and no matter what your past experiences, there is a poet and writer in every single one of us. All you need is a piece of paper and pen to start the never-ending adventure of language arts.”
The aching authenticity and depth of feeling in some of these texts, knowing that these writers are describing early if not first-time experiences, are startling. You wonder if the fragile vessels, made of words they are bringing forth, can contain them in the long run.
“It’s not just about poetry,” QWF executive director Lori Schubert says. “It is about discipline, sitting down and focusing on an assigned activity that has to do with words, using words in dealing with their emotions. Poetry has turned out to be a useful tool, they can say things under the auspices of making art that they cannot just say to their classmates. The hope is this is something they can continue” after the workshop ends.
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Flexibility is the most important asset a writer/facilitator must have, says Sarah Haggard, the program’s coordinator, since many of the kids have varying levels of literacy, and all or a few may show up on any given day. “The final product is extremely key in the project. If there was no visible tangible product, it would not have the same weight or impact.” Poetry lends itself well to chapbooks, Haggard says. The end of a session is usually marked by a presentation, where family is invited and kids get to read from their work. For some, it may be a rare source of positive attention.
“We see a light in their eyes, a transformation. They’re not used to getting good feedback for their performance in a classroom,” Haggard says. “This is something we can offer that they can readily achieve, to their surprise.”
To support the program, QWF member Jan Jorgensen has organized a large book sale featuring more than 30 local writers. Most books are in English, though some will be in French. There will be raffle tickets for gift packets of books as well.
The aim of the sale is two-fold, Jorgensen says. “We will be raising money for the Writers in the Community program and at the same time we are promoting the wonderful array of authors here in Montreal.”
Jorgensen, a writer and founder of The Lawnchair Soirée, an open literary group that facilitates the sharing of creative voices, says it’s important that readers be made aware of the high quality of English writing in Quebec and of “the amazing talent all around us.”
The Read Globally, Buy Locally book sale is February 15, 10 am to 4 pm at Westmount Park United Church, 4695 de Maisonneuve W. 514-721-8420. To learn more about Writers in the Community or donate to the Pyramid Campaign, call 514-933-6878, qwf.org.
For a sneak preview of some of the authors represented at the Read Globally Buy Locally sale: