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Totem Poems is located along Main St. in Nashua. Courtesy photo.




Creative kids
Downtown Nashua sees public visual, literary art courtesy of middle schoolers

06/16/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 At the center of downtown Nashua stands a tall structure decorated with about 60 poems.

It’s located between Main Street and the Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar, where the Christmas tree usually stands during the city’s annual Holiday Stroll, and it’s covered in wooden panels with pieces written in different styles and texts. Themes touch on memories, time, jealousy, war, home, death, loneliness, anxiety, poetry and the imagination, and many poems are accompanied by black and white sketched illustrations.
They were all written by Elm Street Middle School students this spring — but try not to act too surprised.
“I don’t think a lot of people [realize] what kids our age are really capable of,” said Teraysa Majewski, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Elm Street Middle School, during an after-school celebration with the school’s photography and writing club, facilitated by art teacher Karen Munz and English teacher JoAnne Del Greco, respectively.
Majewski, who has two pieces up as part of the Totem Poems project, stayed after school that day with a couple other young writers whose pieces decorate the structure, including 14-year-old eighth-grader Summer Metcalf and 11-year-old sixth-grader Emma Hall.
They wrote the pieces during the latest ARTventures: Nashua project, which involved City Arts Nashua, artist  (and City Arts Nashua consultant) Jerry Beck, poet Ed Marshall and novelist Roy Goodman, who provided encouragement — not editorial help, Beck said — to the middle-schoolers during in-school and after-school poetry writing workshops.
“Basically they would just help us write poems. They would give us tips that could inspire us,” Majewski said. “One of the tips they gave us was, if you’re writing poetry and you’re trying to size it down, pretend every word is costing you $10.”
Metcalf said the artists told kids to look at their surroundings in a new way. Sometimes they brought in photos for inspiration, other times, they gave the title and the students had to fill in the rest.
“The first time we met, since [our table] was super quiet, [Beck] made us write a poem called ‘The Quiet People,’” Hall said.
This year, the kids in Nashua have been given more opportunity to participate in downtown art creation, with thanks in part to lots of groups, schools and organizations. 
ARTventures: Nashua, which Beck created with City Arts Nashua in 2015, also facilitated the creation of six art sculptures downtown created by 400 individuals, including kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, the YMCA of Greater Nashua, the Gate City Charter School for the Arts and Nashua High School South.
The projects feed off Beck’s experience facilitating community art in other New England cities like Boston and Lowell. The concept for Totem Poems first saw the streets of Boston decades ago, and Beck thought New Hampshire could use something like it.
“I’m an avid poetry reader. And in New Hampshire and New England, we have some of the greatest living American poets, living right here in our neck of the woods,” Beck said via phone.
Outside ARTventures, Del Greco is in the second year of organizing another literary public art project with the school. During one of the writing club meetings, she challenged kids to write poems inspired by photos taken by photography club students, and from May 13 to June 18, 15 of those photos and accompanying writing pieces lined the Nashua River Rail Trail on posts.
And soon, those pieces will be replaced by historical fiction picture books written by some more of Del Greco’s eighth-grade students, part of a writing contest Del Greco initiated, which will be available for walkers, runners and bike riders to pick up and read while traveling the trail all summer long. Thavary Hay and Erica Frothingham wrote about Holman Stadium, chronicling the time it was a minor-league affiliate to the Brooklyn Dodgers (then called the Nashua Dodgers), hosting players like Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Julia LaFlamme and Samantha Parks wrote about the old mill building their dance company, Allegro Dance Academy, practices in.
The kids said they like participating in city art, and not just the visual kind. One of Majewski’s new favorite pastimes is listening to and playing the newly installed, artfully painted downtown street pianos.
“I love the pianos. I always beg my parents, oh, are we doing anything tomorrow? Can we go to the pianos?” Majewski said.
Beck said there were lots of people — teachers, artists and observers — impressed with what the middle-school students came up with. Their teachers were happy to hear this, but not all that surprised.
“I think middle-schoolers will really surprise you if you give them a little bit of freedom to express themselves creatively,” Munz said. “This gives them a way ... to connect with their community, and I hope it helps them develop an appreciation for it.” 





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