Family Focus poets celebrate each other and their second book with video trailer and virtual snapshot
Isolation does not always promote loneliness. During the 2020-2021 lockdown that kept some people close and others separated, the family’s poets watched together.
Reunited regularly via Zoom, three different groups of poets contributed to the project: the grandparents raising grandchildren, JoAnn Avery’s Dream Team aged 8 to 11 and the group of young teenagers after school.
An even larger ad hoc event, the Family Focus Writing Circle, met once, and Beth Jacobs, who has facilitated poetry workshops at Family Focus for 15 years, says she hopes it will continue.
In 2020, Ms Jacobs structured things a little differently to account for forced removal. “We learned to play poetry games on Zoom like rhyming contests and a riddle me ryme game. But otherwise it was similar with writing time, asking questions on the chat, then sharing on Zoom, ”she said.
News and daily life have fueled many poems. Questions such as “What is different in your life from what you expected a few months ago?” and, “What was lost and what was found in the changes?”
“We worked from a Hopi prayer poem to write the ‘hang on’ poems and we read a John Lewis quote on the shoulders to write the poems on whose shoulders are you standing. We wrote about our thoughts on the election and how poems could change the world after the murder of George Floyd. We created a time capsule of the 2020 poetry and wrote the blues locked using rhymes and blues rules, ”Ms. Jacobs said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged and ebbed, the poets met. They laugh. They read their poems to each other. And they found a name for their effort, which became the title of their second book of poetry: Family Focus Faces 2020 With Poetry.
Plans were underway for the NorthLight Theater to work with the group to create a play. “COVID stopped that, so they took on the role of helping us produce the book party and helping with the video trailer. Christina Lepri and Kaiser Ahmed were our wonderful contacts. They framed and did the shoots on Zoom and set everything up for the party, ”Ms. Jacobs said.
A grant from the city’s Cultural Arts Foundation paid a book designer and part of the cost of making a video trailer for the book.
The book, said Ms. Jacobs, “is the product of the Resilient Family Focus community. At the beginning of last year, when we were locked up, a lot of things we took for granted were taken away from us. But in this creative space, we have found this arena to share our expressions together.
“Thanks to Miss Colette [Allen, Family Focus Evanston Executive Director] and Miss JoAnn [Senior Staff Program Coordinator] all of the Family Focus programs have been put online, including the writing groups. And at first, we were really worried that everyone would be very distracted and all the writing momentum would get lost. But what we started to find out was that the exact opposite happened, all of our writing really deepened and enriched as we started to really process all the things that were happening last year, all the losses and all the hard awakenings. And all the pressures, we just found that over time, writing took more and more of a role to help us digest and express what we were feeling.
On May 18, most of the poets tune in to watch the book’s trailer on Youtube and support their colleagues via chat.
“Oh, my God,” Ms. Avery said as she introduced the trailer, “you’re going to love it.”
After months of zooming back and forth, reading their poems seriously and confidently was a snap.
Three poems and some extracts
By Payton Thompson, 9
We are all a family
White Americans Black Americans
US small US large
US racists US non-racists
US smart US stupid
US means we are nice
US large US short
it does not matter
the point is that we are a family
Weather i’m depressed
By Nia Lewis-Kimmons, 11
People don’t care about my feelings
and when that happens I feel like a snowball.
Just thrown in and controlled
which makes me feel struck by lightning.
If I stand up for myself I’m the bad guy
and then I don’t feel appreciated and
this is where I become a storm.
I can’t control my feelings
just how I can’t control the weather.
I feel like there’s this great hailstorm
and there is a master
and hail is his little puppets
on a controlled chain
and it’s a lot against a person
without umbrella for protection.
This is where it is competition
and I defend myself
becoming my storm
and guess what always
comes to the end.
They are in my head
like rain on the side effect.
Then the tornado comes
in all my thoughts surround me
I can not stand it anymore
I’m a blizzard now.
Time capsule 2020
By Barbara Wilson, 63
In 2020, I saw a pandemic explode
In 2020 I felt that I was going to burst
In 2020 I realized that life takes
one on such an unpredictable road
In 2020 I learned to be grateful
for everything and take nothing for granted;
and that in some way despite our individual differences
we had all given the same load of life changing
In 2020 we all learned to survive
defined by a different code