Every semester, Messiah College hosts a retreat called the RISE retreat to inspire these students who are children of immigrants and refugees by introducing them to higher education. The theme of this semester’s retreat was creativity, so some of my peers and I planned a poetry workshop for the students. The workshop began by reading examples of “I Am From” poems and having time during the session for students to write and share their own. Mary Pipher “asked refugees to write I Am From-type poems…. a way to experiment with identity issues.” There is a healing value of telling one’s story and having it taken seriously. The purpose of the poem is to create a sacred space and allow students room to find their voice and mentally gather experience.
The RISE Retreat posed quite a challenge: engage students of a wide variety of ages in poetry within twenty-five minutes. I was worried about so many things: lecturing without giving students enough time to write, giving students too much time to write when they didn’t want to write, communicating with students with language barriers. Overall, the workshop was a success and the students composed beautiful poetry.
The diversity of the poetry was the most beautiful aspect of the workshops. We started by reading an example of an I Am From poem, in both English and Spanish. One girl wrote her poem in Spanish: “Mis lindos paisanos de Guatemala, lindos animals, lindos volcanes, flores bonito,” which means “My beautiful country of Guatemala, beautiful animals, beautiful volcanoes, beautiful flowers.” Her Spanish poetry reminded me of Gloria Anzaldua’s words: “When I saw poetry written in Tex-Mex for the first time, a feeling of pure joy flashed through me.”
Although not all students love writing, all students have stories to tell. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to hear the stories of the RISE students in a variety of languages and voices.