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Celebrating Spring & Poetry

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Weeping Cherry at the Moongate Garden

It isn’t spring until you have sat under the weeping cherry in the Moongate Garden at the Sackler Gallery of Art, Washington DC. And I just love the name weeping cherry…

Yes, there is great pressure if you live in DC, to go out into the cold, brave all your allergies, and go see the beautiful cherry blossoms.

But I had forgotten all about that, recently back from spring break in Florida, named after the profusion of flowers discovered there by Ponce de Leon, on Easter 500 years ago.

Today I was at the museum to attend a lecture. Turns out the lecture had been cancelled and I had missed the email because I had “unplugged” when on spring break…

But really, was I there for the lecture after all?

On top of that it is National Poetry Month as well so I have to ask myself, “What have I got?” Well, all I have is a poem I wrote on my flight back from Florida, a poem I wrote on the way to the museum today, and a poem about a man I remembered chatting with last year. Here they are:

1.

PINK

By Sushmita Mazumdar

It is officially spring now
And I am writing in a pink journal
Pink, the color I don’t like
Overused. Over appreciated.
But the journal is a gift
So I write in it.

On the cover is engraved
The word dream
Nestled among sprigs
Of embossed cherry blossoms
So much pressure
Too much beauty

When all I see in old
Japanese art is just a slip
Of Tanzaku and a few words
An offerring of appreciation
Tied delicately to brown branches
And left to the spring breeze…

2.

DAFFODILS

By Sushmita Mazumdar

As I raced along faster than a cloud
Head down and hands fisted in pockets
All at once I saw a crowd
A host, of golden daffodils

Beside the bench, near the DOT offices
They should be fluttering and dancing in the breeze
But they are huddled close in the forty degrees
Spring day with a chilly breeze

Ten thousand they may have been,
But they were not tossing their heads in sprightly dance
Lined up next to the leafless evergreen
Planted—a sign reads—on Earth Day 2011.

3.

PURPLE

By Sushmita Mazumdar

This year the purple hyacinths
Are already in the ground
But I remember the man
I met at that spot last year

He was waiting with hundreds of trays
Of little flowering plants
Waiting to be put in the garden
Outside the beautiful building.

There were so many that
I had stopped and asked if he
Was going to plant them all
All by himself.

He was waiting, he said to me,
Even though he could easily
Be finished planting them
All by himself.

He was a veteran but this was
The only job he could find
When he came back from war
He said with a laugh.

So he was waiting for his
Young horticultural co-workers
Until they finished their flavored lattés
Wherever they might be having them.

And now, I have an idea. Who wants to meet me at the Weeping Cherry next week to write poems? I’ll bring the tanzaku, string, and pencils. I’ll ask if we can tie our poems to the trees. Anyone?

How Many Stories Will There Be?

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I am getting ready to have my first solo show in Maryland’s Glen Echo Park. The last time my books and collages were in the Popcorn Gallery there, it was the Book & Paper Arts show in Feb, 2011, and I spent the opening reception looking at the work by all the talented artists. Such brilliant structures, papers, and ideas. But so many times, as with viewing works of art, I thought, Man, There’s no Way I can ever do That!

Which was exactly what I thought about when I wrote the proposal for my show. How about art that makes you think, Hey, Maybe I Could do That!

When I meet people at the many places where I teach bookmaking or story-writing, and tell them that I write stories and make them into Handmade Storybooks many of them say, Oh, I Don’t Have Any Stories! But we all do. We all have stories but we just don’t think they are important enough to be shared or celebrated.

Then again, every work of art be it a photo, a song, or a play, or something a child creates out of a blob of clay tells a story. You just have to “read” it. I just read a blog by Masum Momaya, Indian American Heritage Project Curator, about a show in the Queens Museum of Art in NY called Her Stories, which celebrates 15 years of work by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective.

So the idea for my show is this: I bet some of my stories and art will remind you of some of yours—after all we all have a story about homework, or a night when the power was out, or about Mom. Or maybe a story about a toddler who likes bubble wrap? I even met a lady who saw one of My Storybooks, Mangli, the Very Special Goat, (which is the story of my mother’s grandfather’s pet goat who ate a shirt) and said she too had a story about a goat who ate a shirt! And it was a song her mom sang to her as she played the ukelele. Hear it here!

I can’t wait to document how many stories I hear about when the show, Let’s Tell Our Tales: Everyday Stories as Artist’s Books & Collages, opens on Nov 3, 2012. I’ll keep a log… And there will be a Make-And-Take station at the show too where you can make your own book, write your story in it, celebrate it by making it into a work of art, and take it home to share.

So come on, Let’s Tell Our Tales!

A Mosaic of Thoughts and Feelings

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Walking the children home from school one afternoon early last fall I was informed that they had read their first Mosaic Project book that day.

“It is about a boy and how nobody can say his name right,” my Kindergartener told me. “Just like him,” she pointed to her big brother, bringing up something she had tried to fix at every baseball practice he went to, telling the other kids to say his name right and embarrassing him completely as well.

The book was My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams (Author), Khadra Mohammed (Author), Catherine Stock (Illustrator). When I asked my fifth grader what they did, he said they made pictograms of their names in art class, just like the boy Sangoel had made in the story.

 The book that started it all!

I was thrilled that this year their school had launched the Mosaic Project, where they read one book a month, school-wide—eight books in the year—introducing the entire school to children and their cultures from all over the world, learning of their experiences, their joys and sorrows. So I was thrilled. What parent wouldn’t be?

But there are many books kids have to read in one school year and I worried whether they will remember them. And mainly, will they remember how they connected with them? And why they did.

So I offered the school’s Mosaic committee a bookmaking project (what else?) where the children, at the end of the year, got to reflect on the eight books they had read that year, and pick any four. I would teach them how to make an accordion book with pockets and they could fill them with things they remembered from each of the four books they had picked. The book will be closed and wrapped in yarn so the things don’t fall out of the pockets.

The Mosaic teacher, Mr. Procter, set me up to do the bookmaking demo on live TV for the K-2 grades. The previous day he had sent the teachers boxes with all the supplies they would need: big sheets of paper to make the book from, yarn, colorful paper with prints from around the world, foam shapes, tissue paper, people shapes, etc. Plus, he gave them color pictures of the covers of each Mosaic book!

After the demo was done I got to go to the classes and help the teachers and children make the books. It was amazing to see one class wanted more color photos of one particular book cover, The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, by Florence H. Parry (Author), Ted Lewin (Illustrator). It was a story about a boy from Egypt and a special day in his life. As I ran to Mr. Procter’s room to get more prints I wondered why they were all liked the same book? I found out soon that it was because they had a boy in their class who was from Egypt!

 
A Mosaic of Mosaic Books on Display in the school

In another class, the teacher had students read from their completed books as the class sat in a circle. The things they remembered, liked, or even didn’t like. One child remembered how the man took books to children in remote hilltop villages on the backs of burros in Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter. Another child liked the art the girl decorates the Rickshaw with in Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins (my daughter’s first chapter book, she told me). And one child didn’t like how the old man set his crops on fire in Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa (Author), Ed Young (Illustrator). He said he worried that they would have no food to eat.

 
Left: Pink tissue-paper fire and grandpa from the book
Tsunami!

I felt great that these kids had some time to reflect on the books individually and as a class. Because often, in the mad rush of the school year and the race to finish books before the movies come out I wonder when these little people get to think about the books they read and more importantly, feel about them. Nothing like a good chance to express that through art, I say!

To learn more about the Mosaic project at Oakridge Elementary School, Arlington, VA, click here! Thanks to the committee that made all this wonderful stuff happen!! To see some of my bookmaking projects click here. More about my work at www.HandmadeStorybooks.com

Inspiration is Everywhere.

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As the kids get ready to go back to school, I get excited imagining a full day of working without kids—for the first time! My youngest is starting kindergarten and up until now I worked (technically) 3 hrs a day, while she was at preschool. So of all the things I plan to do starting September, one of them is starting a regular blog—a great thing for someone who works alone all day and usually doesn’t speak to anyone over 5 yrs of age.

And I plan to start work on my travel stories for kids.

This idea started off when I was at one of the DCPL Summer Reading events. As usual I had unrolled my big map of India and started my story about my trip from warm and sunny Mumbai to Leh, 10,000 ft up in the Himalayas, where I saw my first yak, when a boy asked me, “So how many places on that map have you been to?”

I looked at the map. How many? I had never thought of counting. “Many,” I said.

“How many?” the boy insisted.

“let’s see… I was born in Asansol,” I pointed, “grew up in Mumbai, had grandparents in Purnea and Deoghar, family in Jabalpur, Durgapur, Bangalore, Kolkata, Raipur, Varanasi, Bhagalpur, and Patna. Had friends in Pune, and Delhi. Vacationed in Simla, Srinagar, Mahabaleshwar, Matheran, Abu, Tirupati. Traveled to Chamba, Leh, Kargil, Chennai, Pondicherry, Nimrana, Amber, Goa, Cochin, Tekadi, Shirdi, Aurangabad…” I stopped. “How many was that?”

“25?” he tried.

“Is that good enough?” I asked.

“Do you have a story from each place?”

Of course, I do! “I will start working on them the moment I get home, okay?”

The boy grinned, bashfully. But he had solved a problem I had faced for a long time. Who cares about all the places I visited and things I saw for 29 years of my life? What use was all that?

When the kids are back in school I will have all day to explore. Inspiration, really, is everywhere!