Thursday, January 21, 2010



a shrewdness of apes
an obstinacy of buffalo
a quiver of cobras
a murder of crows
a pietousness of doves
a charm of finches
a busyness of ferrets
a smack of jellyfish
an unkindness of ravens
a crash of rhinos
a murmuration of starlings
a lamentation of swans

what about other obvious groups, collectives?
1. think of a group/pattern of people in your life
2. brainstorm a list of characteristics associated with that group
3. invent a name for that group that fits the characteristics of that group
4. ex: a hush of librarians, a clog of plumbers, a bolt of dresses

thanks erica, i love this exercise!


1. pick 3 pieces in an exhibit
2. choose something that represents a type of beginning, middle/shift, and finale/endpoint/conclusion
3. in your own mind, what is the story of these 3 pieces?
4. draw 3 squares horizontally
5. visually represent/draw the first piece in first square, 2nd piece in 2nd square, 3rd piece in 3rd square
6. under each drawing, tell a brief story of your drawing
7. at the end you have 3 drawings and 3 short writings/descriptions that tell a story. it looks kind of like a comic strip
8. share with the person next to you

this was lead by evan plummer and mario rossero and it really invites viewers to connect with works of art in new ways/make meaning. try it the next time you go to an exhibit!


1. think of an experience of significance to you.
2. create 3 symbols to represent that experience.
3. reproduce one symbol on a separate sheet of paper and "gift" it to the person next to you.
4. explain that one symbol with words on a separate sheet of paper and give that explanation the person sitting on the other side of you.
5. create a symbol for the words just given to you.
6. using lots of various materials, create a visual artwork using only the images/symbols in your possession. layers, erasures, burials, hidings, revelations emerge through repetition. imagine these symbols competing for attention. often switch use of materials every 15 seconds or so.

after jasper john's exhibit at the art institute --- exercise led by jorge lucero

stuck with me and i've wanted to try this again and again

Friday, January 15, 2010

A POEM WITH 6 WORDS -- after Roberto Juarroz' poem

by 8th grader Jaime H. at Greeley Elementary in Chicago:

She fell.
She stood.
She fell then stood.
She fell then stood stronger.
She stood then fell.

She fell stronger, she stood stronger.
She stood then fell.
Then stronger she stood.

She fell.


I'm awake.
I'm asleep.
I'm dreaming that I'm awake.
I'm dreaming that I'm aslseep.
I'm dreaming that I'm dreaming.

I'm dreaming that I'm dreaming
that I'm awake.
I'm dreaming that I'm dreaming
that I'm asleep.
I'm dreaming that I'm dreaming
that I'm dreaming.

I'm awake.

Estoy despierto.
Me duermo.
Sueno que estoy despierto.
Sueno que me duermo.
Sueno que sueno.

Sueno que sueno
que estoy despierto.
Sueno que sueno
que me duermo.
Sueno que sueno
que sueno.

Estoy despierto.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm ________________________MAD! a social justice writing workshop with Lady Terror @ Crown

8th grade students in Luke Albrecht's math class at Crown Academy are working with me and performance poet Lady Terror on a social justice writing project that explores food as freedom. What is enough? How is food like freedom? What is worth gettting mad about and why? This is a project through Columbia College Chicago's Center for Community Arts Partnerships. Here are some responses to the poetic question: What kind of mad are you?!

I'm balistic mad.
I'm driving in a wall mad.
I'm devil mad.
I'm social justice mad.
I'm hit my cat mad.
I'm 2010 mad.
I'm hitting the locker mad.
I'm Tears of a Tiger mad.
I'm fighting my mom mad.


I'm brothers mad.
I'm brother took my X-box mad.


I'm throwin' people out the window mad.
I am on fire mad.
I am punching the wall mad.
I feel like killing myself mad.


I'm stomping mad,
fire off the black board
Mr. A on my case mad.
I'm smack my momma mad,
flamin' hots mad,
smash a window mad
ball your fist mad
red stop sign mad.
I'm failing math mad
wanna torch the school mad
just wanna quit school mad...


I'm the devil mad
I'm smokin' someone mad
I'm walkin on the moon mad
runnin' this town mad
turning my swag on mad


I'm fire mad
I'm crying red mad
I'm jump off a bridge mad
I'm going in a lion cage mad
I'm getting my face ripped off mad
I'm run away from home mad


I'm red pissed off
I need to get away
I'm red mad bloody red mad
like, damn! red get off red
just let me be mad.
Get out of my head mad.
Stay off my feet mad.
Just let me be mad
cause you don't know me mad
I'm red mad, just like red man,
He's red mad.


I'm black and red mad
momma steady yelling mad
shootin' up my brain mad
crying black tears mad
I wanna kill this cat mad
I wanna go home mad
I wanna jump in the river mad
I'm Darkness by Dawn mad
I'm crazy mad
I'm Latoya mad
I'm teenage mad
I'm scholastic mad
I'm rotation mad
I'm translation mad
I'm dotted mad
I'm itchy mad

Brittany D.

I'm Michael Jackson mad
Jason mad Freddy Krueger mad
I'm cyclops mad
I'm garbage man mad
I'm black mad
I'm five heart beats mad
I'm busting glass mad
I'm kick my neighbor
bust my head mad
I'm ignited and damned mad
I'm undertaker mad
I'm nightmare mad
I'm ripping my heart out mad


I'm sabertooth mad
I'm extreme mad
I'm killing spree mad
I'm wolverine mad
I'm out of my mind mad


I'm gun mad
I'm diamond mad
I'm jerkin' mad
I'm mowing the lawn mad
I'm washing the dishes mad
I'm cleaning the whole house mad
I'm doing my essay mad
I'm dancing mad
I'm listening to music mad
I'm dreaming of me as a robot mad
I'm vocabulary mad
I'm spelling mad
I'm on stage singing mad


I'm emotional mad
I'm crazy, stupid, sick mad
World going crazy mad
Cursing out people mad
Crying mad


I'm riping up my social security card mad
I'm burning stuff up mad
I'm jump off a mountain mad


I'm baby just born mad
I'm crying light green tears mad
I'm dumping my lover mad
I'm writing so much mad
I'm putting my head in the toilet mad
I'm mummy mad
I'm shrinking mad


I'm driving my car mad
I want to frighten a cat mad
I want to be a baby mad
I'm climbing up the tree mad


I'm skinny mad
I'm hungry mad
I'm throwing my computer out the window mad


I'm pissed off mad
I'm emotional mad
I'm black, blue, red mad
I'm glad I'm mad
I'm crazed energetic mad
I'm betrayed mad
I'm damn-gotta-problem mad
I'm just me so let me be mad
I'm putting somebody in the locker mad
I'm screaming mad
I'm hitting my mom in the face mad
I'm burning up mad

Brittany R.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

So Far Away...6th Graders Deal with Emotional Distance

6th graders at Columbus Elementary School read poet Susan Stewart's "yellow ice and stars," about feeling really really far away from one another. I asked them to think of what it feels like to feel far away and to describe those feelings by talking directly to the person/idea so far away.

Death Is Near

You are as far as god and I

am as far as the world

on a planet with a house on it.

You are as far as a memory

in the sky and I’m as far as

my cousin’s death, as he rides

in the sea like a dead man.

You are as far as my sister’s

lies, I’m as far as my death is

near, and you are as far as

Navy Pier in an old place. I am

as far as gods in the sky.

You are as far as my love.

I am as far as my love in the

blue sky. You are as far as the

trees. I am as far as a river

of love.

You are So Far I Never Saw Your Face

You and I are as far as where

Jesus is. I am as far as the bottom of

the boat of the Titanic. You are so far I

never saw your face. I am as far

as the first day I saw you. I am so

far away that nobody is understanding you.

You are as far as the day I was born.

You are so far away that I don’t

even remember your name. I am so far that

I don’t even remember my brothers’ and sisters’

names. You are so far away into the first

War we ever had. I am so far where

I could see the universe. You are so far that

You don’t even know the place you are.

You and I are so far away, where only god

sees us.

Jessica A.

As Far As...

I am as far as a gem that is

cascading down eternity and you are as far as

a computer with its vast knowledge.

You are as far as the heavens that rain

smoldering, flipping boulders and I am

as far as the person on the bottom of the

pain where darkness is eternal.

I am as far as destruction and you are far as creation.

I am as far as a black hole at the nexus

of nothing and you are as far as the person

trapped in that hole. You are as far as the river

o life and I am as far as the person

who sings “oh how far I am from life!”

I am as far as destruction and you are

as far as creation.

You are as far as a boy playing in a field

and I am as far as the father calling

the boy from the mountains. I am as far as

the sky and you are as far as the

mountain piercing the sky.

I am as far as destruction and you are as

far as creation.

Alexander C.

Until We Turned To Dust...4th Graders' Takes on Origins

In 2003, at Columbus Elementary School in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood, I worked with 4th graders once a week. One week, we wrote poems about rewinding the universe and finding the origins of things around us. What was a baby before it was a baby? An egg. What was an egg before it was an egg? Dust. What was dust before it was dust? An idea. and so on...there were some really wild spiraling ideas in their poems...


The car turns into wood and wood turns into a tree and a tree

turns into a root and the root turns into water and the water

turns into a seed and a seed, how can all things come from a


The door knob turns into iron and the iron turns into a

railroad track being torn down or maybe being torn


The milk turns into a cow and the cow turns into a cattle

and the cattle turns into a lost cloud.

A letter turns into a memory and a memory turns into a

big Glob of Nothing.

Gianna S.

And Where was I?

The world turned into an egg again and then

into a rock. I was in the rock.

The board would turn into a rock and I

was in a volcano.

The clock would turn into a stick again and I

was a rock.

Chicago was a small fort on land and I was

on a mountain.

The White House would turn into sand and

I was in a store.

The sky would turn into water and I was

a tadpole.

The land would turn into sand and I was

in a tree.

The boat would turn into sticks and I am inside a


The light would turn into dark and I was in the


The ocean would turn into land and I was in

a pond.

Tomasz B.

God's Breath

The house turns into bricks.

The bricks turn into dust.

The dust turns into air.

The air turns into God’s breath.

God’s breath turns into us.

Becky N.

The Origin of Humans

The humans turn into monsters.

The monsters turn back into big piles of goo.

The big piles of goo turns back into a green sun.

The green sun turns back into Venus.

Venus turns back into the Earth.

The Earth turns into a bird.

The bird turns into an egg.

The egg turns back into a human.

Jonathan F.

The Words

The seas turn into bees

The bees turn to E’s

The E’s turn to nothing

Nothing turns to air

Air turns to Jesus

Jesus turns to God

God turns to Christ

Christ turns to spirits

Spirits turn to hope

and hope turns to love

Love turns to wife

Wife turns to husband

Husband turns to dust.

Alexandra P.


Your words turn out to be air

The great lakes become ponds

My heart turns into sadness

A person becomes death

The devil becomes an angel

The teacher becomes a student

The world becomes a map

The picture becomes a country

Power becomes a spirit

Love turns into sadness

Earth turns into a singing bird

The teapot turns to water

A family becomes love

Ice becomes a book

The tree becomes a desk

The gold turns into silver

Khrystyna K.

Rewinding the World

My pencil becomes a wooden stick.

All humans become clouds.

The water becomes the sea.

One hour goes back to one second.

The world becomes a huge forest.

All chalk becomes dust.. This is what

would happen if we rewind the world.

Xavier M.

The class will turn into glass.

The city will turn into sand.

A pupil will turn into your eye.

The train will turn into rain.

Your hand will turn into your skin.

Alyssa R.

The air turned into solid gold

The wind turned into a whistling

Pole. My hair turned into

slimy stones. Five socks

made of gold break my bones.

A bird walks over the sea

10 fish turned into flees

A hippo couldn’t have broken

my knees oh please oh please

don’t change back, oh please.

Jasmine H.

Cruising Away From the Madness -- 4th Graders' Poetic Escapes

In 2003 at Columbus Elementary School in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood, I was working with 4th graders. We read Naomi Shihab Nye's poem called The Rider -- about a boy who leaves his Loneliness panting on a street corner because he's riding so fast away from it on his roller skates. So I asked these guys to think about what they wanted to get away from and what mode of transport they'd use to get away -- how far would they go and what would whatever they escaped be doing if/when they were finally gone?

The Boy Left

I wanted to get away from war so I got in a

spaceship and flew over the world and

the war disappeared.

I wanted to get away from the world so I

borrowed a flying machine and I flew

all the way through the atmosphere and

the world followed me all through the

galaxy. And it caught me and smashed

me in a thousand pieces.

Tomasz B.


anger anger dries up like a solid

stone. broken up like fearful

tone. having pain and wonder

of the torturing cold. being an

angel of the goodest poem

i’m stone can’t break my bones.

so i hop on a flying poem

my body’s wondering where i’m goin’.

my soul is heading to the north pole..

who knows where i’m goin’?


I Wanted

A wise man told me he wanted to jump in

his red truck and go so fast just to get away

from fear. He said he would be going so fast

that fear would be left in the middle of the

earth panting. It didn’t sound so wise to me.

That night I thought about what he said and

thought about my fear. I thought of what the

old wise man said and it kind of made sense.

So I hopped into my red roller skates and

went so fast that I went half way across

the world and I did it. I left my fear

swimming across the Pacific Ocean.

Gianna S.

Trying to leave my soul behind,

I hop on a hot air balloon and took happiness.

Trying to get away from love,

I left my soul and she’s still trying to find me,

Looking all over the world.

She said, please Alyssa, find me oh please,

Banging her hands, having a fit for me.

I tried to get away from love but

Love still found me under a rock

So little you can’t see me.

Alyssa R.

I was really, really so sad that I hopped to my

Airplane and traveled all around the world. And my

Sadness was left on top of the ceiling.

I was really, really so angry that I hopped into

A motorcycle and I traveled to the moon and my

Anger was left in a garbage can.

I was really, really so shy that I hopped into an air

Balloon and flew to Mars and my shyness was

Left in the sink.

I was trying to get out from an enemy’s house.

I got on my bike and traveled to China and my

Enemy was left in a pile of garbage.

Anahi R.

I want to get away from loneliness.

I got on my boat and I went to Hawaii, leaving

loneliness swimming in the ocean.

Michael L.

I wanted to get away from an enemy.

I got in my limo and went around the world and my enemy was sitting on the front


I wanted to get away from a bully

and went on an air balloon and went to

the Great Wall of China and the bully

was crying out loud.

I wanted to get away from sadness

and went on a helicopter and then

came back and my sadness was down

in the basement trying to get out.

Sandra M.

One day I was so bored so I got on

my roller blades and I rode 400,000 miles

and my boredness got tired and went away

from me forever.

I tried to prevent war but a nuclear bomb

blew the world up so I got on a train

and flew out to space and landed on


Lyubomir S.

The Loneliness

I had a big anger to

I go on my motorcycle and

went all over the world.

Anger started spinning away from


I had a big sadness so

I got on my jet plane

and sadness was burning

in the clouds.

I had a big cold so

I hopped on a bus that

went so fast, cold couldn’t

keep up and it got freezing in the


Xavier M.

Friday, October 16, 2009

EKPHRASIS -- EKPHRASTATIC -- Poems & Paintings, Poets & Painters

responding to works of art through poetry:

 NOUN-VERB-NOUN – identify nouns, verbs, and nouns in 3 columns and begin to mix and match new imagery as a result of various combinations (first taught to me by Evan Plummer)

 GETTING TO THE ESSENCE – write 24 words in response to a work of art, then reduce it to 12, 6, 3 and finally 1 word as the essential “essence” of the work (first taught to me by Jenn Morea)

 3 WORDS ONLY – on small post it notes, respond by describing, analyzing, interpreting works, but only write 3 words per post it note – then arrange/rearrange post it notes into a poem

 JUST OUTSIDE THE FRAME… -- imagine what is “just outside the frame/image” – what do you see, hear, imagine, remember, dream, wonder about?

 JUST BEFORE/AFTER…what happened just before or just after the narrative in the art work?

 FIRST PERSON MONOLOGUES – pick a person or object in the work of art and speak from their perspective/voice


 QUESTIONS TO…the object, person, landscape

 I AM…place yourself inside the work and become an object or landscape, etc. What do you see/experience/feel/remember?

 ___________IS___________________ -- pick an object/person/landscape and compare it to something else

 LETTER LIMITS – write about what you see/hear/think/feel only using words that begin with certain letters of the alphabet

 EPISTLE/ODE TO AN OBJECT/SUBJECT WITHIN THE WORK – directly address an object, person, etc. through a poem or ode praising that thing/person


 IN THIS MOMENT… try to capture a single moment in the work of art – expand – and choose another moment – expand

 WHAT IF… what does this work of art make you wonder – start with a “what if” question about the object, person, etc. and keep asking

 HAIKU-or-LUNE-AS-REFLECTION – write a haiku (5-7-5 syllables, 3 lines) or lune (3-5-3 words peron line, 3 line poem) about what you see/experience

 FIVE TITLES AS A POEM – come up with at least 5 different titles for the work of art

 I KEEP DREAMING OF…-- imagine that this work of art is causing you to dream – what is happening in this dream?

FROM POETS.ORG: The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden
The Painting by Jon Balaban
War Photograph by Kate Daniels
The Family Photograph by Vona Groarke
Museum Guard by David Hernandez
The Mad Potter by John Hollander
Messieur Degas Teaches Art and Science at Durfy Intermediate School, Detroit 1942 by Philip Levine
Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Die Muhle Brennt—Richard by Richard Matthews
Photograph of People Dancing in France by Leslie Adrienne Miller
Why knowing is (& Matisse's Woman with a Hat) by Martha Ronk
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams
Stealing The Scream by Monica Youn
Joseph Cornell, with Box by Michael Dumanis
QUESTIONS to consider when writing in response to a work of art: (from
• What's the perspective of the poem? Does the poet "enter" the painting and join its world? Does he/she become a figure in that depiction? Is the poet a spectator? Participant? Art critic?
• What part of the art work has inspired the sentiment? Is the poet sympathetic? Compassionate?
• To what is the poet responding: the subject? the technique? the history? the artist?
• Does the poet make mention of the time difference between when he/she writes and when the work was created?
• What special language does the poet employ to deal with the art work?
• Is the "point" of the poem the same as that of the art work?
ANOTHER GREAT SOURCE FOR EKPHRASTIC POETRY: “ekphrastic excursions” -- David Wright

ekphrasis --
 give voice to the work of art by entering its world
 praise the work of art by examining what you learn from it, why you need it
 examine a personal issue by zoning in on a specific feeling/issue raised in the work of art
 examine a social/historical issue by zoning in on the work of arts’ context/intent

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

FB Status Updates from Tanzania 2009

jet lag pulls the lids down like the undertow of night dream waves. i wake to sleep and take my waking slow...don't want to wash the coast off my clothes...

in the middle of the night i wake up and can't be certain which world exists beyond my bedroom door.

heart breaking taarab music with rasta zanzibari omani fisherman, babu ali, where are you now?! dalla-dalla ride to paje, glittering white sand, turquoise water, sweet love and sleep in a tree house, women walk the low tide collecting seaweed, rustle of palm leaves, three hours on the porch for piko and hennaed feet, a ferry ride to dar hand in hand, good byes extended, dar to arusha, never want to leave...

reunion with hemedi khamis in dar, spice tour tomorrow, dinner at two tables tonight, sunset at africa house, swahili classes with teacher daulat, yet another marriage proposal from omani sisters (second wife seems to be the trend), and small run in with zanzibari police, revealing the seedy underworld of robbery, prostitution, and drugs here -- no worries, i'm a witness, not participant...well, sort of. long story.

swahili language classes at the institute for kiswahili language and culture, roof top coffees, strange re-verb from the past, incredible fresh fish, lush gardens, grilled octopus, soft dhows, sugar cane memories, winding roads, impossibly lost.

mombasa to takaungu to dar bus ride, remembering giriama disco in the middle of nowhere, palm wine, stars, muslim ladies, tawakal bus co. pride, bananas and cashews for sale by open window, arusha friends in dar, seedy air-con disco, fierce heat, ferry ride to zanzibar, arriving to a new reality here, single-cigarette purchase ten cents, women all dressed black, flip flop fashions remix, internet cafe in shangani

last & first days, corn fields & cows, narrow, winding pathways through banana tree forests, flickering electricity, indian buffet, masaii market sister-friends, sketch & shade, reality & trust, fierce sun, chapati. row boats and musical chairs, wet black boots, back-breaking dala-dala rides, the unknown, last show at school tomorrow, beautiful asmaha, conjuring inner strength, michael jackson kangas. seriously.

negotiations with yaz the sign painter, a long walk to duluti lake, distant singing voices in church cave, clouds on water, belly ache, heart ache, weird and great talks with too cool hard to the core teaching assistant, preparing for solo travel, question of visas, points of entry, permission, desire. dress rehearsal, tomorrow.

sipping whiskey with exiled black panther pete o neal in his living room, performing for u.n. tanzanian ambassador augustine muhigu, posing for a picture with rap star professor j (tanzania's biggie smalls), directing a scene where a monster of secrets and lies about hiv/aids melts and dies, learning tanzanian sign language. immersed, in it, fully. belly & all.

hazy evening market, ugali and beans, deranged missionaries, masai regalia, obama hand painted beauty salon signs, banana leaf umbrellas, rich coffee, freeze improvisation, theater is real life.

banana leaves, chickens & cows, flip flops, kangas, sky of stars, hazy smoke, masaii plaid, rolling hills of meru, ugali and beans, green lusciousness, rocky dirt roads, women with baskets on their heads, bustling markets, swahili everywhere, mambo! poa! vipi! safi! used clothing markets, piles of shoes, cardamon chai, sleep tight, mosquito netting, love love love the return. scotland: plaid. masaii men: plaid.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

International Theater Literacy Project in Tanzania 2009

I think I might have been the luckiest teaching artist on the planet this summer. I spent two weeks in Scotland on a teaching artist exchange with the Scottish Arts Council through Columbia College Chicago, and then I spent five weeks in Tanzania (East Africa) as part of a team of teaching artists with the International Theater Literacy Project, led by Marianna Houston, on an exchange via Urban Gateways: Center for Arts Education, Chicago, IL. Along with 7 other teaching artists, we were paired up to led a 2 1/2 week theater project with amazing young students from Nkoanrua and Akeri Secondary Schools, located outside of Arusha near Tengeru/Patandi.

Teaching poetry and theater in Tanzania was one of the most extraordinary teaching artist experiences of my life. I'll be writing about it in more formal ways, but for now I wanted to post some pictures of the process and the people, so that everyone can get a feel for the work. At some point, I plan to write more about our poetry writing process. One of the main poetic structures taught was the Pantoum -- not at all of African origins, but the circle structure worked so well for our play, and the students really got into it, writing both individual and collaborative poems shaped around questions that punctuated our performance piece. Who am I? One day, where shall I go?

After a week of writing and experimenting with theater structures, we produced a play called "The Four Karina's Ask Their Questions" - a coming of age play about a young girl whose questions lead her on a journey through a Forest of Mirrors, to a Monster of Lies, and a Community of Survivors of HIV, who help her understan complex issues surrounding health, sexuality, and relationships. We performed this play near Patandi Teachers College near Tengeru market with 3 other ensembles and a wonderful primary school -- St. Margaret's -- who performed a Midsummer Night's Dream -- amazing ITLP theater festival! We also performed this play at their secondary school. Extraordinary experience, every minute.

The theater festival was all about the dizzying joy of completing an artistic process in community. Incredible love and talent all around! Thanks to Lee Sunday Evans, my teaching partner, Julie Simpson, ED of Urban Gateways, Marianna Houston, of ITLP, and the MacArthur Foundation for making this experience possible for me. I am completely humbled and grateful for the opportunity. Much love to my students, too! I miss you!

I will post some of our students' wonderful poems soon. For now, enjoy these photos! For more information about the International Theater Literacy Project, check it out!