WITS Broadsides Project, Starring Poems by Seattle Children’s Hospital Patients

By Jeanine Walker, WITS Program Director

On a sunny Friday morning, 9 a.m., Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick trekked to the Seattle Arts & Lectures office in Georgetown to convene with me over coffee and tea about the poems we’d select for this year’s Writers in the Schools (WITS) collaboration with the School of Visual Concepts (SVC). The project—its fifth year in the making now—is a partnership between WITS, SVC, and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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How does it work? Each year, WITS places Sierra and Ann at the hospital as writers-in-residence. Working with the hospital’s Education Department and the Pediatric Advanced Care Team, the poets visit students in their hospital rooms, in the schoolroom, and in the The Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit to lead generative writing activities, working either in small groups or one-on-one. Sierra and Ann, replete with a full bag of lessons adaptable to any age, inspire and guide the students to write image-filled, inventive, emotional, and delightful poems. The poets then compile many pages of these student poems from the past year—all of them moving and completely irresistible—and we three, as a group, struggle to narrow down the poem selection further to match the number of SVC letterpress artists who will volunteer their time and talents this spring to interpret these poems into beautiful, colorful, inspired letterpress designs hand-printed as broadsides.

The process of poem selection is, perhaps needless to say, a challenge. Understandably, Ann and Sierra are often attached to the young writers: they remember the moment each poem came into being, the memory often bound up in the intensity of the hospital setting or the circumstances of that young writer or their family. In some cases they may have worked with a student over a long period of time and have gotten to know them and their struggles, along with their writing, so that it’s often hard to separate the poem from the poet. That’s where I come in—though, occasionally, I, too, have met the poet—and then it’s even more difficult. I do, though, attempt to lend a degree of objectivity, and all in all, we aim to end with a collection that is full of unique images, just the right mix of younger and older students, and a celebration of the imagination exploring a range of feelings, from the difficult to the playful, which will be ripe for the picking by the letterpress artists.

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We’re not quite ready yet to announce which poets will have their poems made into a broadside this year, but we know that we’ll know come March 17, when the lot of us—poet-teachers and artists—will gather at SVC’s brand-new space and choose which artist will work with which student poem. It’s a lively, exciting event, oftentimes with the artists’ hands shooting up in the air, ready to claim the rights to their favorite poem.

This year’s beautiful broadsides will be part of our live auction at our benefit gala on March 12, as will a spot at the final collating party, in which the artists present their completed work and speak about their design process and the inspiration behind their work. We look forward to sharing these with you!


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