The Berlin Wall poetry and art of Downingtown West (incredible)

Friday, November 7, 2014


Yesterday, as part of the Speak Up for libraries program (of which I wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer here), I spent four consecutive periods with the very special students of Downingtown West and their beloved (for such good reason) librarian, Michelle Nass. We talked about the role of libraries in our lives, and the treasures we've found there. We learned some of the history of the Berlin Wall (history libraries helped me uncover) and reflected on the metaphorical and physical walls that still separate us. We listened to Ada and Stefan of my Berlin novel Going Over weigh the consequences of freedom, asked ourselves when, if ever, we'd take the risk to jump a wall, wrote poems, and made graffiti art.

After school during the book club hour, we talked about how books get made, what editors do, the difference between writing and publishing, and the writer friends I've come to love.

I was staggered by the receptivity, creativity, and generosity of these students. Their willingness to dig in deep, to answer hard questions, to write—and eagerly share—their work. I came home with a fat file of poems and art, wanting to share every sentiment and drawing here. Space is my limitation. I share a few poems below, a collage of art above, but please know this, Downingtown West: all of it was special, and so are you.

Write about what risks are worth taking, and freedom is, I prompted. This is what happened:

What is life
but a bundle of risks
a handful of desires.
We get thrown in the mix
of temptations and hopes
but in order to obtain
the things that we want
we must go through pain.
— Mike Lodge

Freedom isn't free.
Yes, that's the irony.
We hear its cry.
We hear its call.
Yet here we are
at an ancient wall.
A wall we cannot live without.
A wall that fills us up with doubt.
And some of us will take a risk.
Some of us will die to have it all.
That freedom filled with irony.
For that I would fall.
— Micky

Freedom
It's not impossible,
but it's not clear.
It's what lies in the future that is feared.

But what's life without freedom?
A life of being caged?
The only thing that gives us freedom
is change.
— August Walker

Not much is worth risking my life for.
Family, friends, love, freedom come to mind.
Would you risk everything now for a chance at freedom?
If everything could be lost, would you try?
One moment you're there, the next you're gone.
Never to see your loved ones again.
Is it really worth it, for a chance at freedom?
— Samantha Goss

Can you go against the stream?
Fight the system?
Make your own path?
It will be hard.
Blood. Loss. Isolation.
You are a soldier with no army.
You are a lone soul looking for a place
to call home.
Stay strong.
— Megan

To rebel against the evils which control
our very lives.
In hopes to prevail against the wings of Freedom
and its vibes.
These days our right to think different is
challenged by all.
Yet without the help of others our ideas
will surely fall.
What is worth my life?
What is worth my death?
What will hold me back?
What will set me free?
Love
Freedom
Freedom
Love
That is all I need.
— Emily Gibbs

Many, many thanks to Michelle Nass for organizing this day. Thanks to the students. Thanks to the librarians who do what they do and keep their doors open for us. And thank you to Jennifer Yasick, with whom I began this beautiful day.

2 comments:

Serena said...

Wow those are so good! Wonderful

Bill Bredbenner said...

At the approaching 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov 9, here is an article describing an artistic remembrance planned in Berlin: 8,000 Glowing Balloons Recreate the Berlin Wall. I can't help but wonder what the Fall would've meant to some of the characters from Going Over.

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