Write About Asia at the University of Washington
Write About Asia (WAA) is a workshop series offered at no cost to current, in-service teachers through the East Asia Resource Center at the University of Washington. Participants attend a morning lecture, part of the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Saturday University Lecture Series, and meet for the workshop in the afternoon, which is facilitated by Mary Roberts. For Spring 2021, the series was titled Sites of Memory in Asia: Remembrance and Redemption and looked at how monumental structures encapsulate poignant events and memorable moments in history. In this blog post, middle school teacher Sarah E Pattison writes about her experience as a workshop participant and shares a selection of her poetry.
Today, a chilly April Saturday, the lecture was virtual and I am grateful to be in cozy clothes for it. I will be meeting with the WAA group in an hour through another emailed link. I start the kettle for tea. I still need to review my notes on the re-building of imperial landmarks in Kyoto, Japan, but I am struck by the disjointed and incomplete thoughts I have, written and otherwise. It makes me smile knowing that as a student today, I can be messy and a little distracted. Teachers are not often afforded that creative freedom, impromptu of the moment and subjective to circumstance. We are bound by so much, it can be hard to let go.
I remember the first time I was given the paper prompts from Mary in 2015. Be back with your writing by noon, does that sound okay? Everyone nodded, I followed suit. I had 45 minutes and I had a writing assignment. The menu of writing prompts offered many means of considering the lecture—summarizing, connecting, something creative, and then my favorite on the list: “write to process however you want.” I would have time to review my notes, surrounded by the inspiration offered in the galleries at the Seattle Art Museum and draft my response. What came out was a poem, which didn’t surprise me, but the content felt divergent. I was buoyed enough to be more personal in my writing. The lines were vulnerable, painful in places—two things I am not oft to show outwardly. Returning to the group that first time was nerve-wracking. I rarely show my writing to my closest loved ones, much less a group of strangers.
Mary sat us in a circle and started. Rules are: No apologies, no explanations. Read it twice and read it loud enough for us to hear. We’ll go around after and share things we liked, only things we liked. Ready? At this, everyone adjusted their assorted writing instruments and steadied themselves to share. Someone else began and I immediately relaxed. It was a poem. What followed changed me. Each time someone shared, we encircled them in positivity and the room seemed to deepen. We created a community with each note; every bit of intellect and empathy built the foundations. It was clear to me that I had walked into something extraordinary.
Each week since that first workshop in 2015, I let go, share my work, and invite people into the space that I open within myself. My practice as a writer has grown to include allowing my mind to wander as it wants, embracing the outcomes of those wanderings. My poetry speaks for my processing. Some of my proudest work has come from these scattered Saturdays in the fall and spring. Moreover, my practice as an educator has never been the same. My students need chances to download new learning, mull it over, write about it, and share it with people they can trust in a space that has been made safe through practice.
I wrote this piece on January 19th, 2019 following the musical wealth shared by musician and biologist Jovino Santos Neto in his lecture “The Harmonic Forest: Musical Structures Heard as Trees.”
Language of the Roots
A full circle formation.
Waves crashing on
We are created
in the middle-space.
If we are the expression of
that reverb around us-
What music am I?
What harmony twists my limbs?
What notes contort me?
My ear is clever
and I speak the language of the roots.
A baseline hum in
my chest and core.
The occasional chirp and flutter
reveals a meadow
I must hike to reach,
but cannot dwell.
A landscape in passing.
my environment bends to meet me.
A private conversation.
My span is finite,
The frequencies are not.
Sarah E. Pattison is a maker, mother, and poet. Her work has been published by Seattle Arts and Lectures and received the Elaine Wetterauer Award for poetry in 2019 and 2020. She teaches English Language Arts and Visual Arts at McClure Middle School in Seattle, Washington.