Title page by Grace Martenson

Title page of Grace Martenson's handmade book, summer 2013

Isabel writing on a rock at The Poetry Studio

Isabel McCarthy writing a final poem at The Poetry Studio celebration in August 2016

Image by Maise Sperling at The Poetry Studio

"The Love of Ancestors"
by Maise Sperling, Fall 2015

Drawing by Tess Bogart at The Poetry Studio

"My Aunt, The Maple Tree"
by Tess Bogart, Summer 2016

"Windows to Creative Expression" at BMAC Features Work by Young Poets & Artists from the Poetry Studio

Photo of Aashna at Poetry Studio 2015

Aashna Kinkhabwala works among blooms in the garden at The Poetry Studio in Marlboro, 2015

The Poetry Studio was founded by Ann Gengarelly in 1995 at her home in Marlboro. The program grew out of her career as a teacher and poet-in-residence in Southern Vermont schools for over 30 years. Her goal for The Poetry Studio has always been to provide a space where students of all ages can explore and express the inner self in a nurturing and mutually supportive environment. Ann holds after-school classes during the fall and spring; workshops in the summer; and even adult classes in the evenings during the winter and spring. The ages of students in the after-school and summer programs range from 7 to 16.

The rituals for each class are essentially the same. Group size is usually from 7-10 with an assistant teacher, making the student-teacher ratio no more than 1:4, which allows a highly individualized and personal approach. The group meets first in a circle where Ann introduces a theme—for example, Trees, Sky, Gratitude, Portraits, Listening—and offers a reading of poems related to it. The theme is an elaborate prompt with handouts, but students are encouraged to write what is "begging for speech" regardless of the theme. The group then breaks for writing. The children's classes involve a dialogue with each poet during the writing process. If necessary, Ann or the assistant teacher will take dictation, but always the process reverts to the students and what they need to express in words.

Art materials are available so that thoughts can be expressed visually as well. Playing with drawing materials often serves as a way into a poem—word and image interact with each other to create a multifaceted artistic expression. After an hour or so, the group returns to the circle to share their work. The sharing is especially important as the students have a chance to hear and comment on each other's work, thus expanding what Ann calls "the witnessing" of each other (in the deepest sense of getting to "know" one another). Ann encourages each student to offer a gift—a positive comment—to the student who is reading and thus receive a gift in return. As a result, there is a strong bonding that occurs with every group through this sharing and mutual support.

Poem by Ellie Friends at The Poetry Studio

With the availability of Ann's artist husband, Tony Gengarelly, for summer workshops, these daily sessions include both a poetry and a bookmaking class. Here, even more, the natural surroundings are brought into the process of creating the poetry and art. The bookmaking classes build the structure of the book, be it a soft cover, wrap-around book or a hard cover, sewn signature/folio style of book. Elements of the book's structure are prepared in advance (cardboard for covers, book paper for the spine, sized cover paper), but the students glue, sew, and create cover designs as well as title pages to fashion the book and make it their own. The students then place their poems and artwork into their books, and the empty pages become individual works of art. Elements of graphic design are introduced to aid in the presentation of the work.

Finally, there is a sharing of the students' work with parents and friends that includes a reading by the students, displays on the walls of the studio, and the creation of albums of student work for future appreciation and reference. The summer celebrations include a display of books and a digital slide show as well.

Vermont poet laureate Chard deNiord says of the BMAC exhibit of student writing: "The poems on exhibit ... from The Poetry Studio reflect the fresh nature of the young poet's voice that also jolts adults awake from the sleep of their world-weariness. The simplicity, for instance, of the following lines by Frida Rosner, sorrowful as they are, respond with genuine rebuke to even the sage: 'The wise man was wrong./ The crack in my heart only grew./ The place in between is a city of sadness.' ... The rich display of imagery, lyrical economy, and bold self-exploration in these recent poems from the Poetry Studio both dazzles and moves the reader."

Get thee to the BMAC ... for the privilege of peeking into the rich inner lives of these creative young artists.

Copyright 2016, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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