Today we celebrate the release of four new Unrestricted Editions chapbooks written by students at the South Education Center. Each chapbook is the product of a groundbreaking mentorship program where students worked with teaching-writer Chris Martin every week for the entire school year. The results are staggering. Ranging from 13 to 20 years old, these young poets developed clear, compelling, and incomparable voices that will change the way you think about poetry and dis/ability. Extra thanks to Mary Austin Speaker, who gave them the design they deserved.
With our fall residency complete (more news on that soon), we now shift into a dedicated mentorship role at SEC, working weekly with seven specially chosen students. These students range in age and ability, but all of them bring a profound thirst for expression and creativity. At year's end, each student will have a professionally designed chapbook of their poems in her hands, a culminating product that honors and emboldens each student's journey. Here is a recent poem by 13-year-old standout Tristin, utilizing the abecedarian form and bursting with Tristin's trademark humor:
The insomniac wants actual sleep
The insomniac wants basic dreams
The insomniac wants continuity
The insomniac wants denim
The insomniac wants eternal heaven
The insomniac wants a facade
The insomniac wants gratitude
The insomniac doesn’t want your help
The insomniac wants investment
The insomniac wants the board game Jumanji
so he can burn it in the bathtub
The insomniac wants kindness in its purest form
The insomniac wants love
The insomniac wants mastery
The insomniac needs to escape his inner Yandere
The insomniac wants honesty to lose its silent H
The insomniac wants the perception to know
what kind of perception he wants
The insomniac wants questions with answers
The insomniac wants revival
The insomniac wants sanity
The insomniac wants trust
The insomniac wants usefulness
The insomniac wants your credit card verification code
The insomniac wants
The insomniac wants no more x’s
The insomniac knows why
The insomniac wants some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s
We've added a page of testimonials to our website. It is an honor to do the work that we do and these responses are at once humbling and galvanizing. Please join us in making sure more students and more schools can benefit from the work of Unrestricted Interest! Here's an especially touching tribute from one of our very favorite student writers:
I have severe non-verbal autism. In my days of extreme loneliness, I met Chris. I never thought meeting Chris would help open my inner feelings immediately. I noticed that his calm demeanor was pleasing. I also noticed that he was very understanding of my limitations, while he was very exploratory of my talents. He was not only supporting me, I saw him supporting so many others at our school.
He made an immense impact on my life. I sincerely wish I met him sooner. I improved my sad moods thinking about poetry after meeting Chris. I hoped he would see me more often.
Life without expression was difficult until poetry gave me a voice. Meaningful literature has deep impacts on me. Poetry has even deeper impact. Poetry is a love song to my heart. It resonates at levels that regular words cannot reach.
My writing does not sound autistic, but unfortunately, I cannot function in life without assistance. I need something to lift up my spirits and poetry with Chris does that for me. Treating my limitations with respect and helping me learn to express myself, is Chris’s strength.
Meghana Junnuru, poetry lover and non-verbal autist from South Education Center.
The newest Unrestricted Editions chapbook, brought to you from the master of all things spooky, student-writer Wells Denison. As Wells says: read at your own risk. Scroll down for an excerpt.
Thirteen Ways to Look Like a Ghost
Apply gray, black, and white makeup.
Dress up in a ghost costume.
Find a piece of clothing
that looks old and tattered.
Then distress it more.
Then put on all the accessories
you like: gloves, hat, masks, etc.
You could even put on black shoes.
Black as night.
A ghost can possess you.
If I was a ghost
I would make everything
Ghosts never fart.
Ghosts sleep in their dead bodies
in their coffins all day long.
I guess a ghost could haunt
a person who is faint of heart.
A ghost scares people
instead of being bored
by living forever.
The creepiest thing
about a haunted scarecrow
is that he has no eyes.
When a ghost hides
inside a vase
and dumps the water out
on your head
it makes you jump
and run away.
The ghost of Llewellyn Dennison
comes out of its dead body
in Lexington, Massachusetts
and parties from 11am
until one o’clock.
We are excited to announce a new interview with co-founder Chris Martin in Wordgathering, an excellent journal of disability poetry and literature. Here's a snippet from the larger exchange:
Poetry is patterned language. Autism is characterized by patterned thought. All the so-called deficits of autism turn out to be strengths in the realm of poetry, which is inherently perseverative. Shaping my approach to poetry so as to ideally foster expression in students and adults on the spectrum has allowed me to rediscover how necessary, fundamental, and ethical the practice of poetry can be. And writers with autism constantly illuminate corners of language (and structures of language) that I'd never been able to see before. It's deeply reciprocal.
Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin is back at SEC, embarking on a yearlong set of programs that include two residencies, a mentorship track, and several inservice pedagogy workshops open to all teachers and administrators in District 287.
The Fall residency is underway and Martin is visiting five different classrooms every Wednesday and Friday. He has also started work with five specially chosen mentorship student-writers, who he will work with every Monday for the whole year! We will keep you updated on all the amazing work that bursts forth.
Congratulations to Unrestricted Interest student-writer Meghana Junnuru, whose soulful poem "May" was published on The Art of Autism as part of their "Poems and Art for Peace" series! Her poem demonstrates not only the potential for literary talent among non-speaking writers, but ways in which autism opens the world up to untold dimensions of experience. You can click the link here to read it!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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 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 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!
Martin and 36 other American poets received an NEA fellowship grant for literature in the amount of $25,000 this week. Martin was picked from a pool of nearly 2,000 applicants. This grant stands as one of the highest accolades a poet can receive and Martin plans to use the NEA platform to advocate on the behalf of ASD writers everywhere.
A new article by Chris Martin about his work with Ascendigo poet Zach DeMeo is the feature story on Bright, an education journalism platform of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Follow a behind-the-scenes account of Zach's heart-rending poem, "I Think, I Know, I Imagine," from his chapbook Inside Out my Head.
Have you ever noticed that National Poetry Month and Autism Awareness Month coincide? We did. That's why this April we'll be offering a poetry workshop through the Autism Society of Minnesota to be held at the Open Book Center. The class will meet for four weeks this April on Monday nights from 6:30-8:30pm. Registration is open now, so grab yourself a spot!
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.