By Ariel Fintushel

In May 2017, Women’s Voices Now launched its first Los Angeles community workshop. “Films and Poetry” will serve the men and women who frequent the Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) in Santa Monica, California. Led by WVN Curriculum Developer Ariel Fintushel, the workshop will take place over the course of eight Fridays.

Meeting #1

At our first Films & Poetry Event at Turning Point Shelter (OPCC) in Santa Monica, ten men and women joined for a lively discussion of, “Life, You Think you Own It,” a short film featuring the 93-year-old poet Adrienne Wolfert, directed by Ellie Lobovits. We then wrote a collaborative poem together investigating the question, “Will I Exist if No One Believes in Me?” We ended by writing about that feeling of trying to get home but not being able to, like Wolfert discusses in her film.

In our poems, however, I urged writers to actually reach their destination. One workshop participant, Gregory, instead of arriving home, ended his piece at an exciting moment: “I am ready for new experiences and possibilities. What’s next?” He dove right in.

Meeting #2

In the second meeting of Film & Poetry at Turning Point, ten men and women joined Women’s Voices Now for viewing of the powerful video-poem, “I Come from Women Rough-Skinned and Illiterate.” We then read poems by Etheridge Knight and Lynn Emmanuelt and wrote about the idea of ancestry and memories of home. One participant, named Quincy, commented, “It’s hard to write about these things. It can feel painful.” Daniella remarked, “But it’s a good way to get out your demons.” We also talked about how writing about more neutral memories can be a good way to look at something important without being overcome by it. Deborah wrote, “Recollection blessedly. Thus without pain.”

Meeting #3

This week some new and exciting members joined Poetry & Film. One of our regulars, however, had to dip out early–but this is because he needed to finalize paperwork for Section 8 housing. Now he can move out of Turning Point and into a more permanent residence. While we will miss him next week, we are happy for him ~ congratulations, John!

In our workshop, we read Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Still I Rise” and wrote our own poems of persistence and courage. We watched, “Dana’s Story.” Then, like the film, we made up names for each chapter of our own lives and created brief poems for each chapter. A woman called Sunshine said, “It takes someone special to get people to write.”

Thank you, Sunshine!

Meeting #4
This week at Turning Point Shelter, our group read poems by one of my favorite poets, Kim Addonizio. First we read, “What Women Want” and in response wrote our own poems about what we want. Participants wrote about wanting to be 100 pounds, wanting to go back in time, and wanting to have thighs, eyes, and chests like a “showgirl, showgirl, showgirl!” The film we watched is called “Men Buy Sex,” which led us to a discussion about what it means to confess. “I confess,” one participant said, “that I have nothing to confess.” “You just want everything to be safe,” someone replied, “and there’s nothing bad about that.”
Meeting #5
For this workshop session, our inspiration was the famous poet, activist, and lawyer from Puerto Rico, Martín Espada. We began with his poem “Black Islands,” which is about meeting a young boy at Pablo Neruda’s famous home on Isla Negra. From this we wrote our own poems about having a meaningful encounter but always going back to how the eyes look: “His eyes looked like black islands… black glass… black olives.” We then watched “Vivid Red,” a film by Andra Roman about self-empowerment and used this as inspiration to write a self-portrait. Finally, we closed the session with an animation of Espada’s poem “En la Calle San Sebastian,” and by writing poems where we repeat the name of a street on which we have many memories. As one notably talented participant wrote:
On San Julian
Good men sell their souls
On San Julian
Meeting #6
Today’s workshop was all about climate change. We read poems about earth’s splendor by the famous Chinese Poet Li Po, then watched a film directed by Sarah Jahaan Khan, called “Ripple Effect,” about water conservation by Pakistani women. After writing our own “Odes to Water,” we closed out the session by reading some neo-romantic poetry by Beat poet Diane di Prima.
“Put back the buffalo” she says and, “put fish in clean Great Lakes, desire that all surface water on the planet be clean again.”
Participants followed with their own revolutionary letters which called out for a place to rest, green forests, and one participant wished for something extraordinary: “I want what I’m having right now,” she admitted.
Meeting #7
We had an ecstatic class this week! We began by editing our original anthology: The Poetry of Turning Point, which will be available at our reading on July 14th! Then, with new participants joining us, we dove into something daring: we recorded footage for our first video poem! After watching a video poem by Sean Negus called, “Recursionem Solaris,” we asked ourselves, what is eco-poetics? Is it a critique of human’s relationship to nature? A mirror of nature? Borrowing a device from nature as a tool for writing? We also explored the relationship between nature and the feminine. Then, each participant wrote 2-4 lines of an eco-poem dedicated to Turning Point. We went outside to record trees, birds, and acts of gardening. I am looking forward to putting it all together… For now, here’s a sneak peak at our anthology (this is just a prototype! I used a lino-cut print to make the cover image, which is supposed to be a turning diamond point, but it also resembles an acorn.)
Meeting #8
It’s hard to believe, but this was our last workshop before our final class and Poetry Reading. First, we watched the video poem we made together the week before. Participants found it exciting to see people they knew on screen and to hear words they wrote then read aloud. We then thumbed through our anthology proofing for errors and signing release forms. After that, we jumped back into writing. This week our focus was Strength of Woman. We watched the film, “Brazil’s Warrior Women” by Paul Redman and discussed what lessons we could take from these Milk Sisters of the Babasu. We closed by writing two poems of strength. One we wrote while listening to Poema on Guitar, and for the other we read an excerpt from Gloria Anzaldua’s famous, Borderlands, la Frontera. In our poems, we tried to incorporate words from another language. Here’s an example from Sunshine:
Sin colores, milliones de colores que
estan brillando en el sol
A beautiful kaleidoscope,
en unidad…!