PROSE AND POETRY AT THE LIGHTHOUSE
From September 1987 to December 1990, I had the joy of teaching creative writing once a week at The Lighthouse, The New York Association for the Blind, Adult Leisure Education. When I was interviewed for the position I was asked if I had any questions about teaching the blind. I said that I knew I had a lot to learn about it and that I imagined the students could readily teach me. And teach me they did! Most of the time, though, I was not even aware I was the only “normally” sighted person in the room. Until I’d hold something out to someone and realize they weren’t taking it because they couldn’t see it. Or I’d forget some endlessly patient guide dog was under the table until I’d stretch out a leg and bump into him.
To inspire creative writing in class, I would sometimes bring in one of the musical instruments from my collection and play it, then pass it around. That usually went over extremely well. I even introduced them to creative visualization, which was mildly successful. Yes, some might wonder why I tried a visualization exercise with the blind. But creative visualization is, after all, imagination. And everyone, blind, sighted, or in-between, has at least some imagination.
I was intrigued to learn what dreaming can be like for the blind and visually impaired. From what I gathered from my students and other blind folk, what dream content is and whether it is recalled, varies as much among the visually challenged (to be P.C. :-D) as it does among the sighted. Of course, those who have been blind from birth do not recall visual images. But not all the dream content of the sighted is in visual form, either. Visual is just the most commonly recalled type. I listened sadly one time as a student said he still dreamed in visual images, after losing his sight sometime earlier. But that he was beginning to feel that he was losing his sight all over again as his visual dream images were fading and becoming less frequent.
At the end of each class I’d offer an idea for creative writing during the week until we met the next week. As the first summer approached, when there would be no classes, the students expressed how they’d miss these suggestions. So I put a brief exercise each week on my telephone answering machine during summer breaks. This was not only a hit with the class, but with my friends and others who called my home. The vast majority of the writing resulting from these suggestions and in-class exercises was prose, which generated some interesting conversations when I would share poetry. Especially about what the difference is between poetry and prose, given modern poetry rarely has rhyme, meter, or a particular form (like a sonnet).
At one point I was so “jazzed” by the writing the class was producing I approached The Lighthouse about my designing a small chapbook of their work, also to include artwork by a visually impaired student. I was astounded when the printing was funded. I found out much later that a fellow staff member had cut her own budget to make this possible. She had requested that her gift be anonymous and I was only informed of her generosity at her memorial service.
Below are just two pieces from that chapbook: VISIONS.* The title was their choice, though I chose the work to be included with their approval.
by Rose Francis
[the result of a suggestion to write about shadows]
His head barely reached the table. He stood there eyes wide. A wet pamper hanging below navy shorts. He stood there, his skinny legs in dirty white shoes, unaware of the tragedy. His mother was gone. It was December: she probably would have taken him to Macy’s. To see Santa Claus. Perhaps she had planned to buy him a teddy bear. A train set. Maybe a big ball.
His birthday was near: had she bought him a new coat to go to church on Sunday? What had she dreamed for his future? College. Football. Law? She had talked of the priesthood.
He stood there. His hair in baby braids, smiling. He came toward me when I reached for his hand. I picked him up and held him. His Mommy was gone. And I would begin the walk in her shadow.
by Thea Wolff
Have you ever stepped over a moonbeam,
when there was no stepping to do?
Have you ever stopped
to pick something up,
and a sunspot made fun of you?
Did you ever sit
on your bed in despair and deep sorrow,
hoping that the sun –
will be there again tomorrow?
Follow me where you’ll find
knowledge and care,
friendships and true understanding,
help and encouragement never ending.
Soon you’ll walk through the moonbeam
and tease the sun galore,
what else are sunspots for?
* * * *
Ultimately, I may have learned more by teaching at The Lighthouse than my students. It was a delight to work and explore with both staff and students during those three and a quarter years.
* From the back cover of the chapbook (printed probably in 1988 or '89): “The Lighthouse, The New York Association for the Blind, is the largest voluntary multi-service agency serving blind and visually impaired people in the nation. The Lighthouse Adult Leisure Education program offers 50 different courses covering a wide variety of recreational, artistic, social, and cultural activities for adults seeking to develop leisure skills or simply to enjoy themselves.”
Resource: There does not appear to be a website for the New York Lighthouse with up-dated information, so here’s a link to the parent group, Lighthouse International.
‘til next time, keep dreaming,
[aka: Patricia Kelly]
****If you wish to copy or use any of my writing or poems, please email me for permission (under “View my complete profile”)****My other blog: ROSWILA’S TAROT GALLERY & JOURNAL.