By Annie Newcomer:
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.
Begin reading the Po-Art Series here.
Writing is like no other journey we will take. We do not always know the destinations our pens have planned for us. There is also a lot to unpack in our minds both before we write and in the sharing after we have completed a poem or a piece. Locating trusted and encouraging writing mates is critical to our development and success. How we go about finding our literary critique family is unique for each writer. This belief is a key premise of Po-Art.
I remember clearly the morning I jumped into my car and started out to my first creative writing workshop adventure. I was deliriously happy. Snow was falling; what a perfect sign, I reasoned. It was as though God was endorsing my decision to take up the writer’s mantle. However, even though the class was full of accomplished writers, poets, and technical writers, I soon realized that workshop was all wrong for me. After such high expectations, I found myself crying all the way home after each class, and not because I was emoting an amazing story idea. My tears were not metaphors or similes or some other amazing literary tool. They were exactly what they felt like, wet drops of unhappiness. So after a few weeks, even though I didn’t like the idea of quitting—which was foreign to me after having finished triathlons, a marathon, and the MS 150—I knew that in order to continue writing, I had to leave that class. This left me unsure where to turn.
A couple of months later as I was literally on my knees dusting the coffee table in our living room, a magazine (The Best Times in Kansas) seemed to magically float off the table to the floor, landing open in front of me to a page with a photo of an older lady and an article on the writing class she taught at an assisted living home. In true Harry Potter fashion, Nancy Kastman-Scott summoned me. I responded. During my phone call to her, this wizard-teacher encouraged me to come to her class, giving me the option of either her Tuesday or Saturday session. After a month, I loved her class so much that I asked if I could attend both. For two years I did.
This was probably one of the best decisions I ever made for my writing life because I needed to feel that I “belonged” as opposed to feeling that I needed to “fit in” with the other elite writing group.
In my new writing environment, I learned important lessons. I discovered that you can’t just put words on a page and emotionally think you have a great piece. I learned to pay attention. To never assume. To listen. And for these things to happen, being in a safe place was everything. I became friends with writers who weren’t all hung up on how many books they had published or counting on an abacus how many awards for poetry they had won. The writers who I met at the assisted living facility were writing stories with plans to self-publish in limited editions as keepsakes for their families.
These new friends didn’t see me as competition. They protected me. They nurtured my writing in a way that taught me to love the act of writing with a pure purpose. This experience fortified me in ways that give me strength to this day because my new classmates didn’t “tell” me, they “showed” me what should and must be important about writing. This love I carry with me, and it shapes every piece that I write. In those two years, I learned that I didn’t just want to be a writer; I wanted to live a poetic life. I developed the sense of integrity and respect for my audience. Yes, indeed, I had landed just like Harry Potter in a magical place, completely enthralled and excited to discover what was to follow.
My new writing friends called themselves the Senescent Scriveners, with ages ranging from 80’s to 100 years. I hadn’t realized how my assumptions of seniors was so off track. These older writers showed me the value of experience, wisdom, and excellent writing skills that many had acquired in little one-room country schoolhouses. It is from them that I learned the richness of storytelling. For example, one day a gentleman read his piece about the famed dancers Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, who he knew personally. Another day I heard how “Harry used to walk past my house every day. Nice guy, but I still didn’t vote for him,” when sharing about President Truman.
This is where I met and formed a lasting friendship with Evelyn Bowman. On a recent visit to her home this July, I asked if she would allow me to share a true story she wrote about her husband’s experience titled A San Juan Encounter. I shared that her piece had lingered with me after hearing her read it in class nearly 10 years ago. I explained that I always include a photo of a piece of art that in some way embodies the poets/writers selected in this series.
Evelyn’s home is adorned with art, but I settled on a print from a trip she and her husband took years ago to represent her writing. The photo highlighting this article is a cave art reproduction from the Altamira Paintings in Cantabria, Spain, in which the originals were made with charcoal and hematite around 36,000 years ago. I told Evelyn that this art reminds me of the importance of creating writing pieces that are so well written that they last over time. The blood coloring in the reproduction of the bull from the cave complex makes me think of the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to create something beautiful and lasting and that will be appreciated in any time period and understood. I believe this is true of Evelyn’s unedited writing.
I asked and received permission to mention that Evelyn is 101 years young. She wrote this story when she was 91. What a great fortune I was gifted to become friends with someone who is kind to everyone she meets, is a prolific reader, and has engaged in learning all her life. She has taken Philosophy, Spanish, Creative Writing, and innumerable other classes. During the pandemic, she participated in an intense study on current events. My friendship with Evelyn is a blessing that brings tears to my eyes, but in this case, for all the right reasons.
So now it is time to sit back and enjoy the true story of Evelyn’s husband’s San Juan Encounter.
A San Juan Encounter
By Evelyn Bowman:
The balmy breezes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, were pleasant as Paul got off the plane and searched for someone who should be meeting him. He spotted a man holding a cardboard sign with his name on it and assumed it was someone from the governor’s office. He had been invited by the Ford Foundation, at the request of the Governor of Puerto Rico, to spend two weeks with them studying juvenile delinquency problems and assisting them with ideas in how to improve their methods of dealing with it. He was driven to the hotel and told he would be picked up at nine o’clock the next morning for a meeting at the governor’s office.
After his first day of meetings, he had come back to the hotel exhausted and hoped to get some rest and some good food before retiring. He had just stretched out on the bed when there was a knock at the door. Who could be calling on him at this time of the day? Answering the door, he found a short, stout man in his late 50’s, with a smile on his face.
“Hello, Dr Bowman. I’m Nathan Leopold. Your friend, Harold Rowe, told me
you were coming, and I wanted to welcome you and invite you to come stay in my
apartment. I don’t think you want to spend two weeks in a hotel, and I would be so glad to have you.”
Paul was shocked at the invitation and surprised at the warmth of the man.
“Won’t you come in? I have heard about you and your work here, and I would enjoy visiting with you.” Paul ran his hands through his hair as he often did when he was thinking. “We’ll need to discuss the possibility of my coming to stay at your place. I’m not yet sure what is expected of me,” he said, grasping for words to meet this situation. The man standing before him was a confirmed murderer and had spent thirty-plus years at the state prison in Joliet, Illinois.
While a student at the University of Chicago in 1924, Nathan Leopald, age 19, and his friend, Richard Loeb, age 18, had discussed committing the perfect murder. They were best friends and both. highly intelligent, but in a sense, amoral and planned and carried out the murder of a fourteen-year old boy named Bobby Franks. This horrible murder was headlined in all the newspapers. Paul was quite familiar with the story, (he had been ten years old at the time of the murder), and also knew that Nathan had been paroled to Puerto Rico some two or three years earlier, under the auspices of our church, the Church of the Brethren, and was given a job as a lab technician in its hospital in Castañer, Puerto Rico. The invitation to go live with Nathan was sudden and direct, and there were many mixed emotions involved. Did he really want to go live with Nathan for two weeks? Whether he did or not, he knew it was too important to Nathan to respond negatively.
“Let’s go get something to eat,” said Paul, as he started putting on his shoes. “There’s a pretty good restaurant here in the hotel, unless you know of something better; and we can do some talking. I have some ideas from today about what the people here will require of me, and we can figure out how to manage my housing.” He needed time to think; but even more, he needed some time to get to know Nathan on his own terms.
Paul, a gentle, sensitive and compassionate man held a doctorate in clinical psychology, and had focused his life’s work on helping people transform their lives. Here was an opportunity to meet and understand a man who was rising to the challenge of being accepted again by society after having committed a heinous crime in his youth. At the restaurant, Nathan filled him in on the work he has been doing at the hospital and then earning a Master’s Degree at the University of Puerto Rico, after which he worked for the Common-wealth’s Department of Health. They did not lack for subjects that were of interest to them both.
Before the evening was over, Paul decided that he would move to Nate’s apartment the next day after work. Nate was elated. He wanted so much to do anything he could to give back to the Church of the Brethren for what he considered the “life-saving” opportunity they had given him. Befriending anyone associated with them was a part of that. Every night of that two weeks was full of discussions on a variety of topics.
Clarance Darrow, the famous lawyer who defended both Leopold and Loeb, said of Leopold in his 1932 autobiography, “Nathan Leopold had and has the most brilliant intellect that I have ever met in a boy.”
Another observation was about Nate’s need to be loved and to be seen as human. On the weekend he drove Paul up into the mountains to meet someone. It was his dog that he had acquired while at the Hospital at Castañer. He couldn’t take it to his apartment in San Juan, so some friends were keeping Nate’s dog for him. As they got out of the car and headed for the house, the dog bounded down the path and into Nate’s waiting arms. During their visit Nate lavished as much love and attention on the dog as he possibly could. Here was someone who could love him unconditionally, and he needed that since prison life had robbed him of so much interaction with family and friends.
Paul returned from Puerto Rico with a deep appreciation for the new friend he had made, for the courage he had shown throughout his incarceration, and for his remorse and continuing struggle to pay back society for his mistake. He remained Paul’s friend for the next and last ten years of his life. Nathan died in 1971 as the result of a heart problem and diabetes. He had paid a heavy price for the few years of delicious freedom that he had enjoyed.
Annie’s Writing Tips #3
Remember, if you want to become a good writer, you need to be an avid reader. So take
Dr Seuss’ advice: Be awesome. Be a book nut.
I asked Evelyn Bowman, author of A San Juan Adventure, what she is currently reading:
"Recently I re-read America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray, about Thomas Jefferson and his daughter, a historical novel. Then I read Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, and am now reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo."
Location of the Po-art angel in Sharon Tesser’s art in Introducing Po-Art Part 2 — answer—look on the upper right side of the chair.
Can you find the Po-angel hidden in this week’s art on the Altamira cave painting?
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.