The past year has been rough for many people in many ways. A global pandemic; a national reckoning on police-perpetrated violence. Migrant crises the world over.
Amid all this, a nonprofit arts group in Boston called The Jar is providing a safe place for some students to heal using the power of poetry and empathetic connection with strangers.
First conceived in summer 2020, this poetry workshop series called "World In Progress" brings together students ranging in age from their teens to their 50s with professional poets via Zoom to explore deeply personal works of poetry in a space where love, empathy and patience are the rule.
April is national poetry month, and on Monday in Boston, a group of students from Bunker Hill Community College who’ve been workshopping their poems in The Jar program with three established poets, debut their work.
The event features Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, award-winning rapper, writer and educator Nate Marshall, and Rhina Espaillat, a Dominican-American poet and translator.
As for the students, WBUR spoke with one of them ahead of the event. Sara Valentina Alvarez Echavarria is a 19-year-old student at Bunker Hill, and an impressive poet in her own right. On Monday, she will read "La Meseta," her poetic tribute to the Colombian highlands where she was born and lived until age 15.
In La Meseta, or "The Plateau" in English, Echavarria explores the inner turmoil she endured upon moving to a neighborhood in Chelsea in 2017, and unapologetically embraces the loss of her homeland and struggle to reestablish her identity in an unfamiliar, and at times, unlovely place.
"Today I allow myself to miss my soul, or well, my home from this unknown place," she writes. "I think, write and live with a melancholy that weighs — an enormous and heavy melancholy as massive as the clouds that form in the sky from the highlands — [and] that stubbornly, I miss today. From a gray, monotonous, and cold city."
As Echavarria reflects on that sadness, she makes clear that self-reflection and change are constants.
"I find myself in an endless process of metamorphosis, made out of boldness and expectations that seem, impossible to reach, impossible to settle, impossible to end," she explains. "It doesn’t end because I keep finding the woman I was, I hug her, I connect with her, and I grab her hand; I invite her to watch sunsets that I imagine in the center of the city, ignoring its buildings, its traffic, its noise, its sadness, and its lack of color."
Echavarria says The Jar helped find connection when she felt most alone.
"These workshops really help to connect with people ... and create community," she says. "For me it’s more than just a workshop. For me it’s a space to talk to people, and see them as human; as I want them to see me.
The music heard at the end of this segment is "Palo Santos" by Growing Concerns Poetry Collective, and was curated by The Jar's Ire Roach for use in the poetry workshop described above.
This segment aired on April 26, 2021.