Students look within through visual poetry and book arts
Old friend of Artblog and new Artblog contributor, Candy Alexandrara Gonzalez, (virtually) presents “Imagining Our Future Through Visual Poetry and Book Arts,” a poetry and book arts project organized by themself and Kensington Health Sciences Academy teacher Ms. Sally O’Brien. The project and features insightful poems and beautifully constructed books by KHSA students. We are proud to host them on Artblog!

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Last fall, I got a compelling email from one Ms. Sally O’Brien, a passionate English teacher inquiring whether I’d be interested in collaborating on a book arts project. In it, Ms. O’Brien explained that she was teaching a senior poetry elective at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, a majority-Latinx public high school in North Philly. She wanted to weave book arts workshops into the curriculum in order to give her students hands-on experience making work within the intersection of poetry and visual art. More than anything, Ms. O’Brien wanted her senior poetry elective to feel “as much like an art class and as little like a ‘regular’ English class as possible.”

Upon doing research, Ms. O’Brien found me, a Queer, Brown-Latinx book artist and poet based in Philadelphia, a uniquely qualified collaborator to join her on this adventure. Of course, I agreed. Soon after our initial conversation, Ms. O’ Brien applied for the Picasso Project Teacher-Based Grant, which supports innovative teacher-driven arts projects and in December, we received the news that our project, “Imagining Our Future Through Visual Poetry and Book Arts”, had been awarded a grant. It was clearly meant to be.

“Imagining Our Future Through Visual Poetry and Book Arts” started of as Ms. O’Brien’s dream to expose her senior students to book binding, word and image centered practices, visual and poetic composition, the joy of having made an artist book from conception to completion, and an opportunity for students to reflect on their impending transition from high school student to graduate.

During the first five weeks of the project, students made paper fortune tellers (a.k.a cootie catchers) filled with affirmations; single sheet books that housed original poems inspired by John S. O’ Connor’s “Letter Poems” exercise; Japanese envelopes and stab bindings; flexagons in the style of local book artist, Hedi Kyle; and even pop-up books. I was also able to share my own artist books with the poetry seniors, which center migrant and first-generation immigrant narratives. Through the presentation of my work, students learned about the practice of papermaking, visual storytelling and poetic form in artist books. More importantly, students learned about the power of looking within and sharing our personal stories through art making.

COVID-19 public school closures temporarily put our project on hold. At the time, the newly imposed quarantine and socially-distant reality prematurely ushered high school seniors through their final semester. Just like that, what started off as a project that made space for KHSA’s poetry seniors to reflect on a post high school future, became an opportunity for them to reflect on the personal narratives that they want to share through their work.

Eventually, we were all able to reconnect virtually and students were given the opportunity to complete a broadside or a book for their final project. Below, are examples of the work students made during the quarantine.


Gabriella

an open book with illegible text on one page and a picture of flowers on the other
Japanese stab binding by Gabriella. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

Duplex Poem
by Angely

A green to pink gradient background with Angely's poem written on it.
Angely, “Duplex Photo” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

I woke up tired, checked my phone.
Ready to go on Instagram but I forgot I had work.
I text my manager I was going to be late to work.
I can’t believe we are in June but the days are going slow.
When I’m at work my drive through line goes slow.
When I get bored at work all I think about is cleaning.
When it gets busy we don’t have time to be cleaning.
At the end of the day all I think about is me in my bed sleeping.
At the end of the day all I think about is me in my bed sleeping.
Finally home I take a cold shower to relax my body.
Go straight to my room and lay down because I have a sore body.
I can’t believe I’m home after a long day and can’t wait until the next day.
Stay up thinking if tomorrow is going to be a good day.
I woke up tired, checked my phone.

My Poem Book!
by Ashanti

On the left, the cover of Ashanti's book which is pink and says "MY POEM BOOK!" in golden glitter letters. On the right, a blue background with Ashanti's poem written on it.
Ashanti, “My Poem Book!” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

Where I’m from
you see a lot of people shot in
front of you
Where I’m from
911 is always on speed dial
Where I’m from
mothers are screaming while
their sons are on the ground
bleeding
Where I’m from there’s strange men in every
corner
Where I’m from
is a very sorry place

Equal
by Maximiliana

A circle depicting many people of all colors holding hands, inside of which Maxi's poem "Equal" is printed.
Maximiliana, “Equal” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

We are all sinners,
We worry about making figures instead
of our brothers and sisters
Why’s that no matter white, hispanic, or
black
We all carry the same spine in our backs
So why turn yours on the ones who need it the most
It doesn’t matter if you drink smoke or
even overdosed
It’s time to help our generation
And all it takes is a hand
would you take a stand?

All about L’s!
by Alaza

Alaza's poem written in many colors of markers with a drawing of two fingers in the shape of an "L" followed by "over" at the bottom.
Alaza, “All about L’s!”
Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

L you’re like the back of a chair, The shield I need to
Protect me… SO HELP ME
The Love I need in my life comes from you
Without you I’m nothing.
Love and Live your life make it Lavage Long.
I need you for multiple reasons so don’t let me take this L!
It’s funny because Ls come with me, not mentally
A challenge I hate facing but it’s a life Lesson!
Completing obstacles out of my comfort
zone because I’ll never be a loser
Always remember I’m the…Lover

Poem by Jasmine

Photo of Jasmine's poem surrounded by photos of ultrasounds and Jasmine pregnant with their child.
Poem by Jasmine. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

Just in two months you be here Isaiah
I became another at age of 19
It was quite scary to become a mother at 19
But I took responsibility and kept it.
Every kick, every movement I cherish it.
My heart exploded when they said you were a boy
You are my blessing sent from above
From the men above
I’m thankful for that now I got my little man
A man I’m going to teach to be a man
But until you’re here mommy doing her best.
Just know I love you Isaiah ♥

A drop of my kindness
By Amathys

Two page spread. On the left, a page colored in sunset colors with colored pencils
Amathys, “A drop of my kindness” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

I’ve
been
thinking
about how
my mother
has raised me
with such kind
ness, to have
manners, to have
morals to greet
others as I come
and go to put a smile
on someone’s face
you see their having
such a rough day, evening
or night I love how the
kindness for one person
could lead to another
and it’ll go on and on not
a lot of people stick with
being generous and kind
to strangers but some
do and those are the
good people

Poem by China

China's floral patterned pottery book shown open with more pages sitting beside it in the background.
Poetry by China. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.
China's floral patterned pottery book shown open with more pages sitting beside it in the background.
Poetry by China. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

The root of my soul is what I like to call home

Where my thoughts and feelings are pure

She’s a small thing but

You’ll always see her coming

Faded
by Princess

Princess's poem written on white paper shown open on a table.
Poem by Princess. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

I know what my heart is like
Since your heart faded:
It is like the aftermath of a storm
When the suns trying to peek through
With the rain slowly washing away
And the clouds getting clearer
It is like the little bit of sunlight
Beginning to fade through the crack
Of your blinds after a long day

Poem by Jahira

A red to yellow gradient on a piece of paper with a drawing of a constellation, a small fire, and Jahira's poem written on it.
Poem by Jahira. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

I hold a lot of wisdom and knowledge
It may surprise you of how much I know
It may seem harsh but I’m very sympathetic
I tend to get emotional very easy,
but I don’t show it.
I speak my mind even if the time is not right
I can forgive but not forget
I like to think I’m rare because, the things
in my life is changing.
Not only do i project my sense of style
It’s also my way of speaking and laugh that attracts people.
My eyes is full of passion sometimes.
It’s hard to keep eye contact because they’re always curious about what’s going on
I might seem like a “anything goes” type of person
But I’m trying to enjoy life while I can
I go M.IA. for a while,
But in the end I still gets things done

Golden Shovel: B997DY
by Roosevelt

Orange and yellow piece of paper with a drawing of a silhouetted face looking down and a silhouetted hand making a symbol and Roosevelt's poem written in silver sharpie.
Poem by Roosevelt. Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

We feel like we 40 by the time we
Sixteen It will never be them
it’s always going to be us We
never act out of emotions that’s
not a smart Move Never out
Always in Never move along stay
in Packs Let other’s mistakes
be what you learn from to watch your backside & never walk Strut And be safe we
Love you.

Poem by Keisy

Keisy's poem written on red and white zigzag paper
Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

Maybe I shouldn’t have
Everything happens for a reason
It’s all my fault
There’s no one to blame
I ruined my life
God has his plans
No I really messed up
Every single day this hurts

E
by Emanuel

Emanuel's poem "E" written on a two page spread in colored pencil with every instance of the letter "E" written large.
Emanuel, “E” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.
Emanuel's poem "E" written on a two page spread in colored pencil with every instance of the letter "E" written large.
Emanuel, “E” Courtesy Ms. Sally O’Brien and Candy Alexandra Gonzalez.

E
I shouldn’t never
try to impress you
E Went to NY to grabs a few P’s
and got played
So Slimy
E Disrespected
My loved ones
had us going 3 different
locations
E Sleeping on
a prison bed
Wishing he can
Punch a hole in
the wall
Remember “When
you had” is not
What “you got”
The percentage Ima make
It Isn’t likely
If I sit and watch
looking at the
Sky View
taking off my shoes
and the Top room
is Mine
E
looking 4 employment
But… couldn’t find
It on the Block
Distributing
Eloquent, Efficiency, Embarrassment
Endorphins are low
Exhausted
The environment
I was in caused
me to have certain
expression
Without E then…There
Wouldn’t be no need 2
Say R.I.P
White doves coming out of the box
6 people holding 1 casket.

Poem by Sierra

Where I’m from there’s people on the
Corner dealing drugs because they can’t work.
Where I’m from everyday you have to tell
The person you love “be safe”!
Where I’m from it’s gun violence every
Other night.
Where I’m from you have to struggle to
Make it in life.
Where I’m from you’ll see little kids
running around in the park.
Where I’m from ain’t no such things
As happy homes anymore.
Where I’m from it’s ugly outside
Like the streets we walk through.
Where I’m from this is my life.


Bio

Candy Alexandra González is a Little Havana-born and raised, Philadelphia-based, multidisciplinary visual artist, poet, activist and trauma-informed educator. Currently, Candy’s artwork explores themes of body politics, fat phobia and self-healing through photography, poetry, printmaking and papermaking.

Candy received their MFA in Book Arts + Printmaking from the University of the Arts in 2017. Since graduating, they have been a 40th Street Artist-in-Residence in West Philadelphia, a West Bay View Fellow at Dieu Donné in Brooklyn, NY, and a Picasso Project Resident Artist at Kensington Health Sciences Academy in North Philadelphia.

https://www.candyalexandragonzalez.com/

Tags

affirmations, art class, artist, book arts, book binding, Brown, cootie catchers, coronavirus, covid-19, english teacher, first-generation immigrant, flexagons, fortune tellers, future, Hedi Kyle, imagining, Japanese envelopes, Japanese stab bindings, John S. O’ Connor, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, KHSA, latinx, letter poems, migrant, Ms. Sally O’Brien, original, papermaking, poems, poet, poetry, pop-up books, public school, quarantine, queer, Sally O’Brien, school closures, visual poetry, visual storytelling

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