Meet the Burlingtonians aged 10 and up writing poems about 'poison rain' and 'animal footprints'
On a recent Saturday afternoon at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, a group of nine people sit in a circle in a third-floor meeting room.
They’re here to write poetry through a group called The Poetry Experience. It's led by Rajnii Eddins, a spoken word poet, artist, activist, and community leader.
He begins the meeting with affirmations:
Rajnii: “So the peace and creativity we seek”
Group: “So the peace and creativity we seek”
Rajnii: “Mounts our bodies and sits on the chairs of our hearts”
Group: “Mounts our bodies and sits on the chairs of our hearts”
Rajnii: “Spreading joy and love around us all”
Group: “Spreading joy and love around us all”
Rajnii and his mother, Randee Eddins, cofounded The Poetry Experience in Seattle in 1998. When they moved to Vermont 13 years ago, they brought the program with them.
Originally it was geared toward active writers, but Rajnii says it's transformed into an opportunity for people of all experience levels to create something.
"People would come, and they hadn’t really ever written before. So I wanted to say OK, maybe it might be better in this particular space to have it be a space to create work," he says. "So that way it gives people who haven't ever done it before the opportunity to try their hand at it, and people who have maybe another way to recharge and replenish their well as far as inspiration and playfulness with words.”
At most meetings, Rajnii leads the group through a series of exercises to get the creative juices flowing. On this Saturday, he gives participants a series of words and about 10 minutes to free write.
"It can be anything — stream of consciousness, a story, a song, poem, whatever's on your mind, your heart," he says. "And the words are just a prompt to get you to explore your imagination."
He turns to his right.
“So, your first word is tendril, 'cause it's spring, right, why not, and your second word is opening, and your third word is awash, and your fourth word is pancreas…. and your fifth word is virtuous.”
Elementary school teacher Eliza Weissburger has been coming to The Poetry Experience with her sons Asher and Felix for a few months.
She says the meetings are open and often follow a similar structure of word play, with different degrees of direction. She met Rajnii when he did a poetry project at her sons' elementary school.
"I really liked his way of engaging kids to write poetry, and that’s kind of how I learned about it," she says. "And I just really enjoy writing poetry myself, and I think it’s something fun to do with my sons, especially Asher and I, who like to write together sometimes.”
Asher, who is 10 years old, says he likes the creative freedom of the group, but poetry … “meh,” he says with a giggle.
Still, he writes. Today, his words were darts, arrows, bows, concentration, wind, rain, amazing and cheerful.
Here is his poem:
Arrows fly from bows as darts pierce the sky.
Poison rain falls almost horizontal in the harsh winds.
The air is full of betrayals and secrets.
Blood hints the air.
Eyes are squinted in concentration, but on what? War?
Why not beauty and amazing and cheerful things.
And if you don’t stop soon, there’s no telling what will happen.
For Rajnii, the group also helps him keep a regular schedule of writing. He sees it as a gift and resource for the community.
He says writing can be an outlet for catharsis, processing difficult experiences, and it's an incredible experience when strangers come together to share their words.
“Art is not always recognized as something that's core, you know?" he says. "I think that creativity and self-expression and imagination are really not only healing and restorative forces, but mechanisms through which we can safeguard and affirm, and cultivate, and preserve peace."
Rajnii says the number of attendees varies. Sometimes it’s a handful, other times it might be 20. Meetings are open to the public, and everyone is welcome.
"I think that creativity and self-expression and imagination are really not only healing and restorative forces, but mechanisms through which we can safeguard, affirm, and cultivate, and preserve peace ..."Rajnii Eddins, spoken word poet and leader of The Poetry Experience
James Balady moved to Burlington a few years ago after his retirement. He has been attending The Poetry Experience for three months.
“It’s an interesting group of people, some regulars, some people drop in, you have some new people coming in, and it’s always interesting to see how far words can go in a group; it’s really inspiring," he says. "Democracy with words.”
At first Balady came on and off, but now he says he is very consistent, and tries not to miss the biweekly meetings. He appreciates the group setting and how it shapes the poetry people create.
“Because everyone’s sharing and welcoming and it opens your mind up, how far words travel in a group, because alone you wouldn’t think of the poetry you create in a group,” he adds.
If you are looking to get more involved with poetry and creative work, Rajnii has some advice:
“Be open to explore the craft. Just have a natural curiosity to discover the power and the magic of word, sound power. Be open to hear a range of human experiences, and be self-reflective about what inspires you personally, what speaks to your story," he says. "And holding space for those things in tandem, I think, will always bear fruit, and give you access to so many different arrays of places and spaces to receive inspiration, and cultivate deeper awareness of how you can access your own imagination."
This story was produced in collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.