By Annie Newcomer:
Po-Art: Part 1
After meeting Joaquín Zihuatanejo at the Austin International Poetry Festival, I was determined to bring him and his poetry to Kansas City, Missouri, for our students and community. Crosby Kemper (then Director of the KCMO Library System), Martha Jalali (Professor of Social Justice Studies at the University of Kansas), and my husband extraordinaire, David, helped this occur at the Kansas City Plaza Library, Pembroke Hill, and Cristo Rey schools.
During the children’s poetry event, Joaquín told me that he hoped one day to have enough extra money in his pocket to invite his whole class out for ice cream. So we decided that “ice cream on the house” for the students and their families should happen that very evening. After creating their poems, we gathered up belongings, young poets, and their families and Joaquín shared his idea with them.
As everyone excitedly headed off to TCBY to partake in our ice-cream feast, one in the group, an aunt who had brought her young niece and nephew, pulled me aside. She explained that she and her children could not stay for ice cream; they had come by bus and needed to hurry in order to be on time to catch the bus back home. The three thanked me profusely for the opportunity to meet Joaquín. The children were happy, and I could see that they loved their aunt. Obvious, too, was that they did not have a lot of money. I reflected on the reality of my having invited many people to the event who lived close by, had no money issues, and yet hadn’t come. As I watched this family scurry off for the bus stop as the night shade fell upon us, a deep emotion enveloped me from witnessing the joy that was poetry so evident in them. I went right home and began trying to catch the spirit of this experience in a permanent way.
Po-Art was born that night.
This caring aunt, babysitting her niece and nephew on a warm Kansas City Spring Friday evening, chose poetry over any other activity for the children in her care despite any inconvenience.
I wonder where these children are now and what they are each writing and drawing?
Po-Art represents the angel who takes us to the bus stop, waits patiently, and then hops the bus with us on a journey of exploration into Poetry, a place where we can find solace and joy even in difficult and inconvenient times.
Po-Art is a concept that reminds us to cherish our histories.
Encouraging one another to pick up our pencils and begin writing our stories and creating art is my vision for Po-Art. The many unique ways we discover to share is the journey. This idea stems from my belief that our individual life’s work is blessed when we inspire others to share their stories too.
I asked artist Bruce McClain to draw the Po-Art symbol after a good deal of discussion on the concept with him. For this article, Bruce explained his design:
“I always looked upon angels as foreign ministers, emissaries sent on missions to comfort God’s people. There are many examples given in the bible of God sending angels to serve as messengers to comfort and protect those who love Him. So, when I think of angels, I'm reminded they come in different forms, and visit us even when we are not expecting them. The idea of drawing an angel with a pencil was a moment of inspiration and perhaps reminiscence for me.”
This Po-Art series is a gathering of poems, illustrations, and prose shared to gently touch your soul during this time of coronavirus. In the following weeks, poets Trish Miller, Paula Anderson, Brooke Herter James, Jamie Heller, and Clara Rabbini, Stephany Hughes and other poets I've collaborated with—Kimberly Deeken, Jan Way, and Debbie Theiss—will add poems they have written during the Corona shutdown. Each has included a short backstory on their work and a short bio. We will begin with our prose piece by Abby Barry.
Meet: Abby Barry
I first met Abby Barry at Turning Point, where she works and I volunteer. Turning Point is a Center for Hope and Healing in Kansas City that provides an eclectic array of classes for a vulnerable population with health needs. Among her other duties, Abby helps participants enroll in classes. She is often the first face one sees at Turning Point. I asked Abby to write a piece that explains how she continues her job while she is sequestered at home. Now, we have the opportunity to hear her written voice and can easily recognize that with Abby, Turning Point participants truly have their own angel at the helm.
In her prose piece, Abby explains her passion for her work at Turning Point.
Turning Point & Pandemic
By Abby Barry
I never thought I’d experience a pandemic in America in my lifetime. To be honest, I’d never considered it a probable reality, as I believed they were something of the past or the perfect setting for a thrilling movie plot. But here we are. It has proven to be a challenging and uncertain time, forcing us to modify the way we communicate, work, shop, and live; it’s easy to talk about the negative aspects, but being the optimist I am, I like to focus on the good. It’s out of my control anyway!
I am grateful that I have gotten to keep my job and that I have the opportunity to work from home. With no commute to and from work, I have almost 2 hours added to my day. I have enjoyed spending extra time with my dog, Rosie, a Rat Terrier/Shar Pei mix we adopted at six months. In March, we celebrated her fourth birthday. She enjoys the extra playtime too!
I have also been spending more time in the kitchen. Before the pandemic, I’d never been much of a cook, but as I work through each new recipe, whether a triumph or a fail, my knowledge and confidence continue to expand.
Technology has surely been a blessing during this time. My husband and I use Zoom to have weekly game nights with family and friends, connecting us unlike generations before have ever seen.
The most challenging aspect of working from home is missing the in-person, face-to-face interactions with my coworkers and our Participants. I am the Office Specialist for a non-profit organization called Turning Point at the University of Kansas Health System. We provide a wide range of programming from educational and emotional support to body movement and nutrition for those affected by serious or chronic physical illness. Our programs are skillfully chosen and designed to help our Participants gain the tools needed to live a resilient life. Before the stay-at-home order, I looked forward to going in to work each day and visiting with our Participants. Day after day, I watch how they respond to adversity, whether it be a cancer diagnosis, living with chronic pain, or losing a loved one. Day after day, I am in awe, humbled, and inspired. I’ve watched as new people walk in timid, uncertain, and fearful and leave confident, replenished, and hopeful. It’s a joy to see so many strengthened by friendship, inspired by each other’s stories, and encouraged by optimism. It is my hope that the keys to resilience our Participants have learned at Turning Point are helping them navigate through this pandemic with grace and hope.
Interview with Abby Barry:
Annie: Your love for the participants at Turning Point is a blessing and comes through in a way that inspires me. Abby, may I ask you to share a little bit about yourself for the Flapper Press audience?
Abby: I am a wife; married six years to the man I started loving from the moment we first met. My husband is my biggest encourager, cheering me on in my pursuit to learn and create. I recently set out on a quest to learn hand embroidery. Even more recently, I began to learn the joy that writing can bring. Writing provides the space for me to observe, reflect, study, and research. Having the intention to write about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences changes the way I look at myself and the world around me. Instead of quickly passing through, I have learned to slow down and be more aware of beauty.
Annie's Writing Tip #1
In each segment in our series on Po-Art, I will offer a writing tip. I hope that you will find these helpful whether you are a novice or pro.
Before you even pick up a pencil or sit at your computer, Reflect.
What type of stories do you wish to share?
Who do you see as your audience?
Take care and time while viewing these questions, even if you think you already know. When you are satisfied with your answers to these two questions, then and only then write down the answers on a notecard and put these answers in a safe place.
Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Point—a place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.