Potential Unlocked! @ The Target Performance Hall

Join Unrestricted Interest and the Center for Engaging Autism at the Open Book's Target Performance Hall to celebrate the launch of a new chapbook: Unlocking Potential. The poems and songs in this chapbook were all composed during our summer workshop and student-writers will be joined on stage by Coffee House Press: In the Stacks poets Steve Healey and Sagirah Shahid. This event is sponsored in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and facilitated by Milkweed Books. RSVP here!

Saturday, September 15 from 4-6pm

Saturday, September 15 from 4-6pm

Unrestricted Interest + CEA + CHP @ Arete Academy = Poetry & Autism Camp

The week of August 7-11, Unrestricted Interest will be teaming with the Center for Engaging Autism and Coffee House Press to present a poetry and autism camp for both educators and students at the Arete Academy of Exceptional Education. Registration fees for both educators and students are incredibly affordable, thanks to a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.  

Educators will gather for pedagogy workshops from 1:30-3:30pm each day. These workshops will offer insights into the surprising reciprocity between autism and poetry while giving educators practical tools to harness the power of poetry and song in their classrooms. We will show you how poetic forms can be crafted to respond directly to a student's passions and perseverations. There will be an opportunity for educators to get hands-on experience afterwards with student-writers. Learn more and register here.

Students will gather for poetry presentations and writing workshops from 3:00-5:00pm each day. At the beginning of each session a brilliant local poet, sponsored by Coffee House Press, will briefly present her work. The workshops that follow will be specifically tailored for writers on the spectrum, engaging them with poetic forms that fit their unique interests to facilitate expression. They will also engage in songwriting, the most pleasurable and perseverative poem form of all! Learn more and register here. 

Please spread the word far and wide! This is truly a one-of-a-kind offering. 

Unrestricted Interest @ SEC

Our pilot program at the South Education Center is complete and we have the poems to prove it! SEC generously produced a bound anthology, The Line: From the Poets of South Education Center, to help us memorialize and celebrate this amazing experience. Below are a few examples from the anthology, which we launched last Friday at an event marked by nearly a dozen student readings. We couldn't be more proud of this publication or more grateful for all the help we received from SEC educators and administration, especially Literacy Specialist Cathy Pinkosky. 


Unrestricted Interest @ SEC

Our May-long pilot program continues at the South Education Center, where we were proud to showcase two poems from students in the first-annual talent show! The first poem is called "AWED" and was written by a non-verbal student named Meghana, who has been utilizing the rapid prompting method to find her expressive potential. She joined Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin on stage for the big event. The second poem is by Tristin, who claimed to be no good at writing before reeling off this cosmic gem.

At the South Education Center talent show

Unrestricted Interest @ SEC

For the month of May, Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin will be in residence at the South Education Center in Richfield. The pilot program is off to a terrific start, serving over 25 poets with special needs and abilities. In the picture below you can see the fruits of a collaborative poem planning session. The four young writers in this session invented a poetic form that mirrors the body of a dragon. Each writer will helm a quatrain representing not only an aspect of the dragon, but also a quintessential element. What an outstanding example of creative labor and social integration! Stay tuned for more work as it unfolds...

Unrestricted Interest + AuSM @ Open Book

Last night marked the completion of our first class with the Autism Society of Minnesota and our first class at the Open Book, sponsored by Milkweed Books. Below is a picture of Max, who wrote twelve amazing poems (and one song!) during his four weeks with us. One night Hans Weyandt, the Manager of Milkweed Books, stopped by and read one of Max's poems called, Thirteen Ways of Looking at Dwight D. Eisenhower." He was blown away. He requested a copy and said it was better than any poem he'd ever written. It's one of our favorites, too: 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Dwight D. Eisenhower

1. He was an active boy.

He played sports.

2. He was president from 1953-1961.

He was a very good president.

3. People liked him.

He came up with the idea

of interstates.

4. He was a veteran

of the second World War.

I think he did a good job

serving as commander.

5. He created

The NASA space company

that goes up into space.

6. He retired in 1961.

He lived in Gettysburg.

7. I think he was thoughtful because he

thought about peoples feelings.

8. I think he liked

opera because operas fun.

9. I think Ike liked different foods

because they taste good like hot dogs.

10. I think He would be a rain cloud.

11. Loud like thunder.

12. I think he would be a looming rain cloud.

13. I think he would be a downpour. 

Unrestricted Interest + AuSM @ Open Book

Unrestricted Interest began its first autism and poetry workshop at the Open Book this week, courtesy of AuSM (the Autism Society of Minnesota) and sponsor Milkweed Books! One highlight from the first class was a collaborative double acrostic. It's challenging form, but how else can you celebrate the confluence of National Poetry Month and Autism Awareness Month by spelling out AUTISM down the left margin and POETRY down the right? 

Unrestricted Interest @ University of St. Thomas (AuSM Skillshop) - 2/9

Unrestricted Interest co-founder Chris Martin, hot on the heels of his successful presentation at the Edina Library through Edina Reads, will be offering a skillshop through the Autism Society of Minnesota at the University of St. Thomas on the night of Thursday, February 9th from 7-9pm. In addition to general information on poetry and autism, including a look at recent research, Martin will speak about the potential for creative writing professionals to find rewarding and fulfilling work in the autism community. Too many poets are underemployed and underutilized. What if bringing the transformative power of poetry to people on the spectrum was the key to turning that around? Register here!

The first four chapbooks from Unrestricted Editions

We are thrilled to announce the publication of four chapbooks from Unrestricted Interest student-writers under the imprint Unrestricted Editions. Each has been designed, in collaboration with the student-writers, by celebrated book designer Mary Austin Speaker. Stay tuned for information about upcoming book launch events and let us know if you'd like to host a launch party in your area. We are deeply proud of these student-writers and all they've accomplished. These books will transform your understanding of autistic imagination, humor, resilience, and love. 



Unrestricted Interest @ The Minnesota Autism Conference

Last weekend, teaching-writers Chris Martin and Brian Laidlaw presented at the 21st Annual Minnesota Autism Conference. Their presentation, "Turning Perseveration into Creativity," focused on how repetition and so-called "restricted interests" are both crucial to the structure of poetry and song. What would a villanelle be without repetition? Isn't rhyme basically perseverative? And don't these cyclical preoccupations help ground the writing and make its concerns immediately legible for the reader or listener? With all their experience as celebrated poets and songwriters (and teachers) behind them, Chris and Brian gave a definitive answer: yes. 

Unrestricted Interest @ MPR's Imagine Wellness

Teaching-writers Brian Laidlaw and Chris Martin made an appearance at MPR's Imagine Wellness event at the Minneapolis Institute of Art this week. Brian performed an original song and Chris read from his new collection of poems before they got to the main event: sharing poems from Unrestricted Interest student-writers! They read four student poems, including verse on Australian Dog Heaven, the growing love of a boy seeped in the Simpsons, and two poems on metamorphosis. Here is the final poem they shared, from Ascendigo's Zach DeMeo: 

New Year's Poem


I think winter’s cocoon

is bright yellow

as it turns into spring.


I think spring’s cocoon

is full of life

as it turns into summer.


I’m thinking summer’s cocoon

is only live (like a concert) in love

as it turns into autumn.


I kind of think fall’s cocoon

is blooming to the more cold

as it turns into winter.


I think the more

I make love a part

of my world

I’ll be happy.



In October Unrestricted Interest visited Ascendigo in gorgeous Carbondale, CO to help install a tailored creative writing curriculum. We spent ten days with Ascendigo, training their talented staff to facilitate creative writing and working directly with their equally talented clients to produce original poems and songs. 

For the next six months Unrestricted Interest teaching-writers will work with Ascendigo clients each week over Skype to develop literacy skills, improve creative writing, and maximize their expressive potential. Two months in and this partnership has already fostered dozens of poems and the creation of more than sixteen original poetic forms!


On December 5th Unrestricted Interest teaching-writers Chris Martin and Brian Laidlaw presented an evening lecture on autism and the language arts for the Center for Engaging Autism, hosted by the Academy of Whole Learning. 

Attendees renewed their appreciation for poetry and song, while learning how these two art forms are ideal vehicles to help facilitate creative expression in the autism community. 

Unrestricted Interest @ the Southern Poverty Law Center

Check out Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin's first blog post for Teaching Tolerance, an anti-bias blog from the Southern Poverty Law Center. His post dispels some popular misconceptions about the potential of people with autism and illustrates new research on the reciprocity between autism and poetry. This is a call to radically rethink our approach and our assumptions:

Let’s give people with autism more opportunities to demonstrate what they feel, what they imagine, what comes naturally to them through humor and the language of sensory experience. As we learn more about autism, let’s not forget to learn from those with autism. There are poets walking among you and they have much to teach.