Sharon Brisolara holds a masters in Human Service Administration and a PhD in Program Evaluation and Planning, with concentrations in Rural Sociology and Women’s Studies, both from Cornell University. She is an educator, writer, program evaluator, and Resilience and Equity Coach. Her monthly Op-Ed column for Shasta Scout discusses the equity challenges facing our community through a variety of lenses including poetry, research, resilience coaching, and sociology.

“I ask you, dear sir, to have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves, like closed rooms, like books written in a foreign language. Don’t try to find the answers now. They cannot be given anyway, because you would not be able to live them. For everything is to be lived. Live the questions now. Perhaps you then may gradually, without noticing, one day in the future live into the answers.”

~ Letters to a Young Poet (Letter 4) by Rainer Maria Rilke

Being walked into a human experience is different than participating in conversation; beyond  the words and the ideas and concepts we carry around without much examination.

Poetry walks us into the human experience. It is an art form rich with words that also paints a scene for us. At its best, poetry does not tell us how we should think, instead asking us to look deeply within and past ourselves. Poetry reminds us to see people as human, to see the things we pass each day as extraordinary, to see the world as wider and wilder than we had ever thought.

When we allow ourselves to be moved by poems, we come closer to recognizing what is true, to see beyond our ideas of how we think things should be. Emily Dickenson is said to have urged writers to “tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was nudging us all to use the power of the poetic to bypass our defenses and engage more of the world and its people with life’s deep and meaningful questions.

In some cultures, poets are prophets. In some countries, thousands come out to plazas to hear poets read and citizens memorize whole poems by their favorite poets. There are places where the names and poems of national poets are not only known but revered.

Amanda Gorman gave the nation a taste of a this kind of culture when she read her original poem at the Presidential Inauguration this past January, winning the hearts of a nation. Her words, the way that she owned them, her youth, her vision, and hope — we hungered for all of it.

This is the gift of poetry: that words can lead us to what has been invisible, and yet before us, all along. Poems invite us to consider our lives anew — or as Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Shasta County has it’s own history of poetry open mic nights, radio programs, and publications too numerous to mention here. And on August 6th at 6 p.m. at the Shasta Arts Council, you’ll have an opportunity to engage with local poetry culture by watching as Indigenous youth share original works on the themes of identity, culture and justice.  The film you’ll see and the conversation that follows is the culmination of Being Seen: Native Youth on Identity, Culture, and Justice, a project funded through a California Humanities Youth Voices grant.

Being Seen is a collaboration between Local Indians for Education (LIFE), the Shasta Arts Council, and Inquiry That Matters. By engaging youth in writing workshops and sharing the work of Native artists, Being Seen works to explore life’s great questions through poetry. The project was run with the support of LIFE Center staff and April Carmelo, Program Coordinator for Indian Education at Shasta Union High School District.

When it comes to the themes of identity, culture, and justice, the stakes today feel particularly high. Dialogue devolves into taking sides and critique even though we all have much to gain from a more just world; a world where more of us feel like we belong and where more of us contribute to creating a sustainable, life-giving future. Work towards a world like this requires an examination of our interior and exterior worlds because, as James Baldwin wrote, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Youth in our community face the challenges implicit in questions of identity, culture, and justice. Hearing their poetry is an opportunity for us to listen to the challenges they face and learn from them. One poet from the Being Seen project, Hailey, writes of the experience of having identity either imposed upon her or ignored:

“If you knew my appearance doesn’t define me/If you knew my ancestors danced on this land.”

Another, Dayjah, speaks of owning one’s voice, saying:

“I want you to know I am a symbol of change, hope, and life/When you see me, see my beautiful wings.”

Hazel, another Being Seen poet, shows us a stack of open books, inviting us to notice more deeply what is inside, as she tells us:

“Breathe deeply/Listen to their words/They’re full of stories too.”

And there are other poets too, sharing their thoughts through humor, images, and metaphors.

Some of the youth who participated in the Being Seen project were new to poetic expression. Others had written poetry for years. Some attended because of their love of poetry. Others wrote as a way of developing and expressing their voices and visions for the future.

Poetry is one more powerful vehicle for exploration, for delving into questions, for embracing moments of beauty or grief, for loving the questions and, in the end, for inviting others into conversation.

We hope you’ll join this community conversation on August 6th for the showing of the film Being Seen. We especially hope local youth will join us, not only for the experience of hearing their peers, but to write their own poems as part of the event.

This is your invitation to hear the wisdom our young people carry, to be in community with others, and to explore your own poetic voice.

The world needs more of us living the deeper questions.

Do you have a question or comment?  Sharon will be part of the community conversation at Shasta Scout’s Facebook page. Join us there!