Breathe in, breathe out once
Again. Know that I am safe?
What about our sons?
~ Jen, Mom, N. Cambridge
Please don’t hurt me now
Because of my skin color
Let me live my life
~ Gus, Peabody School Student, Cambridge
In the first weeks of January we – the Past Poet Populist of Cambridge, Jean Dany Joachim, and I set out across the city in the hopes of sparking conversations about race, about justice, and about equality. We challenged people to condense their thoughts, feelings, questions and ideas into three lines of text, seventeen syllables.
Brevity came from having too much to say. Back in November, after the non-indictment in Ferguson and then the non-indictment in Staten Island, Jean Dany had begun writing haikus. Haiku after haiku after haiku, flowing in streams of syllables. As he described, “I suppose it is the appropriate poetry form to help me refrain myself from talking too fast, spitting out sadness, fear, rage, or frustration, as well as keeping my dignity as a human being.” He encouraged friends, colleagues, community members, to join him. And this is where our idea took shape.
But they are necessary
To have together.
We conceived of a project – The Many Voices Project - that would invite voices from all across Cambridge: From North Cambridge to Kendall and every neighborhood in between. Our goal was to create a space to listen, to create the time and the room for conversation.
For me it was a way to take action. At school we read about the non-indictments, discussed the protests, participated in die-ins. But I felt removed. So much of this year is about preparing for the future and for future action. But here was a place to act now.
Over those opening weeks of the new year we held poetry workshops across Cambridge. We sat down with elders in community homes and senior centers. We lead workshops in school classrooms and neighborhood community centers. One late, windy evening we attended an open-mic night and, in between beat-boxing and spoken word we made our pitch. On Cambridge’s MLK Day of Service we invited volunteers – in between making valentines for shut-in elders and toiletry kits for homeless teens – to speak out in seventeen syllables.
May we have less violence
Start with your neighbor
The response was overwhelming, as was the honesty. In three weeks, more than two hundred people had added their voice. A cacophony of fears, hopes, dreams, questions, anger, confusion, worries, declarations.
All of these voices, all of these haikus, we gathered into a chapbook. With a grant from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education we printed and bound over a thousand copies and drove out into the city again – this time to share the books with libraries, schools, community centers, religious centers, senior centers, neighborhood house, youth programs and city offices.
It is our hope that upon reading, people all across the city will strike up conversations, or pick up conversations that were set aside. The process is ongoing.
Dear daughter of mine
I look into this lost world
And fear for your future
~JS, Thinker, Mid-Cambridge
As a white person
Wondering how to engage
Talk to me soon. Please.
~ Carol, Retired teacher, Inman Square
Once more must we lift
Our voices in the name of
Freedom and justice
~ Daniel, Son and Brother, West Cambridge
Black, White, rich, poor citizens
In full harmony
~Jean Dany, Dad, Cambridge
You can read more Cambridge voices at our website: manyvoicescambridge.wix.com/manyvoices#!city-voices/c1sxh