The power of young people’s poetry
The cover of “Another World,” an poetry and art anthology of works by young people who attended The Poetry Studio in Marlboro.

The power of young people’s poetry

New anthology from The Poetry Studio showcases the next generation of poets

PUTNEY — To open a copy of Another World: Poetry & Art by Young People from The Poetry Studio, edited by Ann Gengarelly and Tony Gengarelly, is to be invited to a magical place where children feel safe enough to be their authentic selves, to express in words and images their hopes, loves, sorrows, and fears, all with a guilelessness that tugs at the reader's heart.

For nearly three decades, Ann and Tony have provided after-school and summer poetry programs for young people ages 5 to 17, in Marlboro, where their extensive and beautiful gardens provide a place for participants to slow the pace of their lives and listen, as Ann says in her introductory essay, “to whatever is begging for a voice.”

These poems, then, give voice to a variety of topics: journeys, transformations, conversations with nature and aspects of the natural world, the mythic and the magical, and more.

Always the poems startle with the inventiveness of their images, honesty of their emotion, and depth of their understanding, as in the following examples:

§Big frog, so still,

§as still as a stone.

§Amber eyes stare into my soul.

§Big frog, I'm not like you -

§You sit in meditation

§while I am always rushing,

§rushing through life.

§Big frog, wise king of the pond,

§bring me calm and peace,

§so I can walk through life,

§stop seeing in black and white,

§unlock the cage I'm trapped in.

§-“Big Frog,” by Ava Rosenzweig-Davidovits (age 11)



§I dared to carry the weight of the world

§on my shoulders


§To become the becoming

§To roll in the rolling waves of chance.

§To love with my heart wide open.

§To play with my spirit animal.

§To dream of my wildest hope.


§I dared to live.

§-Untitled, by Lily Charkey-Buren (age 10)



§The smallest things have the most to say -

§one blade of grass,

§a bumblebee,

§a single leaf of the maple tree,

§one silky white petal of a flower,

§the black and orange butterfly

§that I keep on seeing,

§that one clump of moss

§a single pine needle -

§-From “An Orchestra of Nature,” by Ellie Jellema-Harter (age 10)

* * *

In her introductory essay, “Birthing Poetry,” Ann says she has no formula for how she teaches. Rather, she explores the question, one she revisits often, of “how to create environments where young people's voices can flourish.”

To illustrate what she means, she leads the reader on an imaginary journey into the gardens and over the threshold of The Poetry Studio for a vicarious experience of the multiple kinds of activities that can occur during a class session. Her detailed description, well worth reading, helps the reader appreciate all the more the poems and art that follow.

This anthology also features artwork created by the young poets at The Poetry Studio with the guidance of Tony, a professor emeritus of fine arts at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

In his essay “Word and Image,” Tony says he does not give formal art instruction at The Poetry Studio. Rather, participants are provided with materials and allowed free creative expression.

For young poets, the relationship of words to images is a reciprocal process; the images they draw, paint, or develop as collage can function as a pathway to words and, conversely, as words to images.

During the workshops, students can create handmade books of their poems and illustrations. As do the poems, the students' artwork surprises with its emotional honesty and clarity of vision.

After so many years, choosing which poems and images to include must have been a formidable task. In the preface, Ann addresses that challenge.

“The selection process for this book was difficult,” she writes, “because many exceptional poems and beautifully rendered drawings could not be included. Their absence does not suggest that a particular piece of writing or art is not 'good enough.' Ultimately, we focused on a range of voices and imagery to be shared with the larger community.”

* * *

Various authors in the Brattleboro area helped with the selection process; Ann expresses gratitude to those who “spent long and focused time considering the students' writing.”

In the section “Students and Alumni Speak,” some former participants describe how their experiences at The Poetry Studio have influenced them years later, even a decade or more after they last attended.

Aashna Kinkhabwala, age 22: “It was so easy to write out in those gardens because there was no judgment or stress, only love and nature.”

Harry Poster, age 32: “When I was a smaller little boy I was very worried that everyone could see what I was feeling, or hear my opinions before I spoke them. I knew that if that were true, no one would understand or like me.

“Luckily there was a protected space very close to where I lived - where I was invited to be specific and put all of my fear of being misunderstood into words. [...] I was taught a craft of writing on terms that didn't intimidate or condescend. Along the way I discovered the unique voices of poets from around the world - one of them being my own.”

Claire Holmes, age 17: “Not only were we learning how to become poets, we were also learning how to become people. We expressed so much daily gratitude for nature, each other, and ourselves, most of which I don't have time for or make time for in my daily life at school or in general society.”

Em (Hexe) Batchelder, age 31: “All children deserve to know that they each possess a unique ability to make beauty in a world that desperately needs more of it.”

In “The Writer,” a poem by Richard Wilbur (the second poet laureate of the United States), the speaker listens to his daughter in her room typing a story and realizes, “Young as she is, the stuff / Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy.”

Another World, a treasure a long time in the making, gives us the gift, in their own words and images, of the profound truths of young people, their great cargo.

May we adults be worthy of receiving their truth.

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