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On Homewood and Uncloaked Light — Truth Thomas Reflects on Literature, The Homewood Center, and The Legacy Project
Why does literature matter, and why should any person, governmental body, or private sector limb give funding support to reading and writing programs? Invariably, such questions come to haunt the days of all poets and writers from time to time. Whether these queries come from poetry audiences, or from friends around dinner tables; for any writer, they are about as welcome as bedbugs on a honeymoon pillow.
Certainly, HoCoPoLitSo (Howard County Poetry and Literature Society) is not immune to such a biting question in a time when the economic outlook of our days is cloudy. But every now and then literature happens that is so inspirational that it silences all interrogations about its worth. In that context, it gives me great joy to report that HoCoPoLitSo’s All-County Writing Competition represents such an inspirational event. It has come to my attention that eleven students recently won awards in our annual writing extravaganza. Among them is a student I taught in the setting of the Legacy Project Poetry Workshop Series at Homewood High School. My heart is full for all of the students who excelled in the contest, but it is especially full for Homewood and the “Lord.”
Homewood Center is the county’s alternative school, where students are sent if they do not “fit in” to mainstream—regular—Howard County schools. When Bob Marley sang about “the stone that the builder refused . . . ” he could have been singing about this school. There is a police sub-station-like office at the front of the building (right across from the principal’s office), and that police presence is there for a reason. Many of the students at Homewood are in crisis, whether they are in the midst of difficult life situations or in the grip of battles to overcome profound life traumas. Many of them are there because they have suffered some kind of abuse, through no fault of their own. The staff is heroic, but make no mistake, it is not a Kumbaya-singing, marshmallow-roasting-around-the-campfire kind of place.
A friend and colleague, David Barrett, who is a former chair of HoCoPoLitSo, teaches there. He is, as are all the teachers at Homewood, fully committed to helping young people succeed. Several years ago, he invited me to Homewood to start a poetry workshop series called The Legacy Project. The point of the program, which ran for three years, was to extend avenues of hope to students whose lives were streets of trouble. Toward that end, I exposed the students to poetry—and to the power of their own creative voices—as an esteem-building exercise. Another purpose of Legacy was to teach young people that all people have something of value to offer the world—to leave behind. The program worked. It enriched the lives of many students and my life, as well. In that effort, I was privileged to work with Anne Reis, who is the media specialist at Homewood. Later, when workshop numbers grew, I was equally blessed to engage the assistance of another very talented poet, Alan King, who helped me facilitate the workshop.
It was there, in the creative frame of The Legacy Project, that I first met Lord Magloire. He was in the ninth grade then—and was gifted. His work, although in need of refinement, reflected his great love for books—particularly classic literature. Lord was a poet of promise who wrote of Homer as easily as he did TuPac Shakur. What I recall is that he needed someone to affirm his writing gifts—to push him. That we did, and Lord’s poetry blossomed. He overcame an abundance of his challenges and literature helped him to transform his life. In a poem he composed for the Howard County Library’s Word Up! Competition in 2011 called “The Cool,” Magloire wrote: “I come out of the cool like a slice of / cheesecake . . . I just am . . . through art . . . ”
This year, in HoCoPoLitSo’s annual writing contest, Lord Magloire won third place in HoCoPoLitSo’s poetry contest of all the submissions from all the high schools in Howard County, and was named by his teachers as winning a Promise and Achievement in Language Arts award. When a child is given the gift of self-esteem, it represents a fire that cannot be easily extinguished. In that uncloaked light, literature matters (and organizations that support literary enrichment matter) as instruments of that ignition. Yes, the next time someone asks me about the merit of art over a meal, I’ll just tell them a little bit about HoCoPoLitSo and a lot about the “Lord.”
The full list of creative writing winners is Jennifer Baik, Sarika Reddy, Brianna Richardson and Melanie Zheng (Centennial); Lord Magloire and Justen Williams (Homewood); Darby Dicks, Genevieve Ferris, Elizabeth George, Sarah Owoeye and Jennifer Piegols (Mt. Hebron). The honored judges were: Patricia Van Amburg, poet and professor at Howard Community College; Heidi Vornbrock Roosa, adjunct instructor at Howard Community College; and Sarah Cotner, media and resource specialist. I extend my affection to all.
The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from members of the HoCoPoLitSo board...
One day, I am in class alone with one of my students because her classmates are on a field trip. She has been a member of a poetry workshop that has been in place for five years at Homewood Center, Howard County’s only alternative school. It was organized by our media center specialist, inaugurated by poet Truth Thomas, and made possible from the Horizon Foundation’s contribution.
On this day, the student asks if I would listen to a poem she has been working on. I said I would and she began to read a plaintive poem about her scarred relationship with her mother. While she is reading, a second student enters the room and asks what is going on. Before I can answer, she joins us and says “This is a poem!” and starts to cry as she realizes it’s about a mother-daughter relationship. She states that she wants to say some things to her own mother (with whom she has never lived) but does not know how she would do it. After hearing her classmate’s poem, she wants to try it in a poem. With excitement in her voice, she asks if I would review it once she has completed the first draft. She is completely animated.
This is yet one more story of how poetry, serving as a vehicle to work through complex issues, is positively affecting the lives of students at our school.
Oh, I failed to mention that both girls are in my geometry class, not an English class.
By David Barrett
Ex-Officio, HoCoPoLitSo Board
Poet, publisher, and HoCoPoLitSo board member Truth Thomas takes a look at the year ahead for the organization and sees the promise of fertile ground.
Fertile ground is a wondrous thing. That is one of the first lessons I remember learning as a child growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, along with the fact that my late grandmother could cook anything and make it taste good. Indeed, in the right hands, even a small stretch of land can yield a multitude of edible miracles. In the context of literary activist organizations, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) represents a similar patch of fertile ground.
The first grand HoCoPoLitSo New Year harvest is the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, our 2012-2013 writer-in-residence. Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University and is brilliance personified. He is a highly published poet, Cave Canem Fellow, Tony Medina workshop alumnus, and the author of an inspiring collection of coming-of-age poems entitled Wisdom Teeth. It gives me great joy to announce that he will be visiting every high school in Howard County to captivate our young people with the sunshine of his work.
In addition to the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, the New Year brings the literary bounty of our 35th Annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry. This year, the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Colum McCann will be featured. McCann has published five novels, numerous short stories and a storehouse of articles. His book, Let the Great World Spin, won the National Book Award in 2009. I have always loved Irish Evening, because by virtue of it, I have been blessed to see the profound similarities between African Americans and Irish people. Both groups of folks have come through suffering with unbent backs of beauty. The event will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 1, 2013, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.
The literary crop of events that will spring forth from the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in 2013 is one of great volume, quality and diversity. On March 19, HoCoPoLitSo partners with the Howard County Library—the fairest of them all—to welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edward P. Jones into our midst.
On April 23, HoCoPoLitSo connects with HCC to host the Blackbird Poetry Festival. This year, the festival highlights the sterling poetry and photography of author Rachel Eliza Griffiths—a Cave Canem Fellow, as well as the poetry of author Kendra Kopelke, director of the MFA program at the University of Baltimore. There are many more events planned that I will refrain from mentioning, at this time, because a little suspense makes life worth living. Suffice it to say that one of those events has something to do with the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June, and that the writers invited will stir ovations in every heart. Yes, I think that is enough to say, for now.