- About the Initiative
- Topical Index of Curriculum Units
- View Topical Index of Curriculum Units
- Search Curricular Resources
- View Volumes of Curriculum Units from National Seminars
- Find Curriculum Units Written in Seminars Led by Yale Faculty
- Find Curriculum Units Written by Teachers in National Seminars
- Browse Curriculum Units Developed in Teachers Institutes
- On Common Ground
- League of Institutes
- Video Programs
Have a suggestion to improve this page?
To leave a general comment about our Web site, please click here
Traveling you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents. Your atlas preserves the distances intact: that assortment of qualities which are like the letters in a name. 1
Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities is a richly pictorial narration by the explorer Marco Polo as he reports on his expeditions to the emperor of the Tartars, the Great Kublai Khan, describing in vivid form the many cities in the boundless territories of his kingdom. The prose describes fifty-five cities, yet it is the interspersed pages of dialog between Polo and Khan that frame the narrative with insights into human nature, memory, and desire. The great conqueror and his minstrel do not speak the same language yet it is evident that they understand each other through the poetics of their vivid shared imaginations. I am delighted to sprinkle memorable inspirations quoting from Invisible Cities throughout this unit's text.
The pathway of one's personal travel story is a richly textured avenue of investigation for adolescent students. The personal stories of adolescent students offer richly textured avenues of investigation. In this unit my students will explore ways to articulate and creatively illustrate their stories of migration and urban mobility. The high school at which I teach in urban Charlotte, NC is a mirror of the migratory landscape of the modern city. Though the Charlotte area has a long history of migratory populations, in present day it has become a mecca for families moving to North Carolina form Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia. Significant to this cultural dynamic is the fact that cultural traditions and social customs play out in adolescent students' personal histories as they are lived throughout the school day. This contributes to cultural visibility and invisibility in our urban school community. In the classroom the challenge, for even the most experienced educators, is to rethink the design of instruction to address the frequently transitory conditions of student engagement.
In response to the Yale National Initiative seminar "Invisible Cities: The Arts and Renewable Community" this curriculum unit seeks to develop students' awareness of the virtual environments within which we act out our lives every day. These 'invisible cities' are the physical, social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of life active within both the urban city and its microcosm, the urban school campus. Inspired by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, this curriculum unit explores students' own travel stories as a path to creative expression. Much like the book's visual storyteller Marco Polo, students will recount the adventures of their urban travels and examine the spatial practices that structure the cultural geographies of their social lives, lived spaces and everyday practices of familiarity in the city and at school. Through the metaphor of the journey students will explore their travel stories as subject for art that will be shared through various means of storytelling including written and visual narratives, oral presentation through iPad videos and artistic expressions in both 2D and 3D media. Students will reflect on the role of virtual environments in modeling our lived spaces. Through reflection and artistic response, students will explore how they can affect their environments in a positive way.
This unit is written toward the curricular content area of secondary Visual Art yet addresses several Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing Literacy in Technical Subjects. I teach secondary visual art at four different proficiency levels as well as the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. This unit is appropriate for teaching in an Intermediate level (Art II) visual art course or year 5 of MYP Visual Arts. North Carolina defines visual art as an elective in a technical subject. As such, my visual art classes are comprised of students representing a variety of grades, motivations, skills, and maturities within each class. Of primary importance in working with urban youth is to know students and work with the capital they bring to the classroom. Through this unit teachers and students will grow their understandings of the lived cultures and journeys of the individuals in the learning environment.
Cities-visible and invisible, physical and virtual, lived in and longed for-are the metaphoric inspiration for motivating students' written and creative responses in this unit. As inhabitants of the city students are practitioners in the writing of an urban "text" through the patterns of their steps as walkers in the visible and invisible spaces of the city. Yet they write without being able to read it. 2 A learning objective of this unit is that students can learn to recognize and interpret the pathways that intertwine in networks of everyday places revealing poetic and mythical practices in the spaces of their lived experience. Discussion and reflective writing will be employed to probe student insights on the topic. Students will be prompted to write expressing or evoking feelings or emotions, supporting various levels of meaning or personal interpretation, connections to their own experience, or connections to past events. The class activities for this unit support learning goals for students that encourage them to consider how, in thinking of actual or inevitable life changes, one can creatively respond to place, people or situation and purposefully contribute to a re-visioning of community. The larger goal is that students will find meaning in artistically exploring personal stories themed to the rhythms of life that bring us all together and guide our destinies. This approach supports student learning through the North Carolina Essential Standards for Visual Arts that are inclusive of visual literacy, contextual relevancy and critical response.
For the past eight years I have taught a neighborhood urban high school. School progress report data for 2010-2011 reported our adolescent student population at 836 students. Racially our school's demographics at that time consisted of 86.6% African American, 3.3% Hispanic, 4.1 % Asian, 3.6% Caucasian, and 2.4% mixed race. Just two years later, our student population grew to 1618 students. Racially our school's demographics have changed considerably to 69.53% African American, 22.25% Hispanic, 2.97 % Asian, 3.2% Caucasian, and 1.36% mixed race. As a neighborhood school the student population is inclusive of students with physical, emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities. The school currently has a large number of immigrant students, many of whom are identified as ESL/LEP who are aided through special services.
Americas Quarterly stated "we are all immigrants now". Ours is a hemisphere of immigrants, having attracted people from around the globe even before Europeans set foot in the New World. For five centuries immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa have imparted their influence on the culture, politics, and economics of both North and South America. According to the Global Commission on International Migration three percent of the world's population-about 200 million people- are on the move and the United States has become their prime destination. The result is a plethora of vibrant, diverse global communities that do not fit within stereotypical notions of ethnic or national dominance. 3
The provocations of Invisible Cities suggest inquiries into the phenomenon that as people migrate to new locations throughout their lives, they recreate cities both visible and invisible by the pathways of their memories and lived traditions of their place of origin. In idealistic terms, the concept of the 'city', like a proper name, provides a way of conceiving of a particular space on the basis of interconnected properties, a network of order within which it operates. The concept city functions as a place of transformations and appropriations constantly enriched by new attributes. 4 However, the concept city has given way to globalized cityscapes that hold within their boundaries widely varied ethnoscapes, cities within cities wherein the familiar is harbored against the annihilating forces of gentrification. An important goal of this unit is that cultural perspectives that construct memory and identity for marginalized students in urban populations can be used to propel meaningful creative expression and foster the rebuilding of communities through the arts.
The class activities within this unit embrace creative writing, the creation of visual art and the use of digital technology for visual expression and oral presentation. Each activity may be accomplished independently, yet the intention of this unit is that each will build upon the other with the goal of revealing the 'invisible cities' within the students' worlds of experiences. The activities make use of small collaborative groups as well as independent student production in art and writing. In a class activity titled " 'pedestrian speech act, framing the familiar through digital storytelling' ", students will utilize digital video story telling to spatially act-out a place, capturing the visual and aural experience of walking their everyday "city"-the school hallway between class bells. In " 'kicks, a digital photo essay' ", students will explore visual storytelling from an unusual observational perspective. The process of evoking memories of their personal travel stories will begin with the " 'Collage writing' " activity as students respond to travel-related poetic literature. The collage essay will serve as the stimulus of visualization for imagery that will be used in the creation of an original map-like work of art through which students explore their personal geographies. Finally, in " 'Elegiac episodes' " students will create oral poems as remembrances of beloved places recording them as digital videos that are then linked to their art works through digital QR codes.
Every story is a travel story-a spatial practice. 5
In his book Practice of Everyday Life Michel de Certeau brings up a point that in modern Athens the vehicles of mass transportation are called metaphorai. To travel to work or to home, one takes a "metaphor"-a bus or a train. 6 De Certeau connotes that stories have metaphoric quality in that every day they traverse and organize places. Narrative structures have, through spatial syntax, ordered ways of regulating changes in space made by stories in the form of places put in linear or interlaced series. Thus, stories, whether everyday or literary can serve as a means of mass transportation, as metaphorai. 7
De Certeau goes on to say that "every story is a travel story—a spatial practice". Spatial practices, as he alludes, concern our everyday methods of indicating spaces as we walk through the city with enunciations such "It's to the right", "Take a left". The rest of it, he says, is written in footsteps. I liked this idea of de Certeau's that narrated adventures simultaneously produce geographies of actions in pedestrian travel. They "organize walks. They make the journey, before or during the time the feet perform it." 8 I was taken with this notion of walking, that footsteps tell stories, and pathways define spaces.
Early on in my Yale seminar I experienced a coincidence of walked 'spatial practices' that impressed these notions upon me. The first was our seminar fellows' walk in New Haven on the first day of our fellowship forum. Our seminar leader, Joe Roach, gave us all a city map of New Haven. Together we unfolded our maps and as we were oriented to them we considered some of the thinking behind the original planning of the visible city. We gathered outside to embark on a walk together for the purpose of gaining experiential understandings of the built realities of some of the city's pathways, nodes, landmarks and boundaries. Our curiosity was peaked on the imminent mystery, to find the invisible city within New Haven, the Jewish community known as the eruv. After walking several blocks we were surprised as our seminar leader pointed out the subtle demarcations that identify the boundaries of the eruv. It was during this walk that I began to make a connection to my students' and our school's culture. It was striking to me that, like the eruv, there are invisible cities within our school in the form of psychological and social borders within which students feel a sense of order or protection. I recalled the memory of my habitual school day experience of walking to my building in the pre-dawn darkness of the morning as the campus presents its milieu of adolescents. Outdoors along its pathways students position themselves as if characters in a daily performance of a long running play. At each node I encounter a collage of faces while a medley of languages contribute to a chorus of voices rising and falling amid a cacophony of conversations. In Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life he writes that when one's activity occurs in the presence of others there are aspects that are expressly accentuated and others that are suppressed. Actions to be noticed or highlighted occur in what he defines as the 'front regions' while those actions to be subjugated occur in 'back regions'. 9 In the obscurity of the morning students wait in domain specific 'back regions' where from the drama of their day will begin.
Here costumes and other parts of personal front may be adjusted and scrutinized for flaws. Here the team can run through its performance, checking for offending expressions when no audience is present to be affronted by them; here poor members of the team, who are expressively inept, can be schooled or dropped from the performance. Here the performer can relax; he can drop his front, forgo speaking his lines, and step out of character. 10This brings me back to the notion raised by Michel de Certeau that daily practices, such as those performed by students, serve to articulate what he refers to as travel stories. Oral narrations of places, the home, the streets, function to organize movements back and forth between 'seeing and 'going' on the totalizing stage of the 'map' of everyday experience. 11 According to de Certeau, the word place indicates stability. Space, however, is composed of intersections of mobile elements. In relation to place, space is like the word when it is spoken. "Space is a practiced place. Thus the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers." 12 As we enjoyed our walk, we stopped to take a look at site-specific public art. We paused to consider civic values and how artistic contributions to a community can have lasting significance. This brings me to recount my second inspiration for this unit experienced while walking that occurred two weeks later when I visited the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. As I strode the spacious galleries of the contemporary art wing I came upon an artwork called The Fire Next Time, 1989 by Chilean born artist Alfredo Jaar. 13 This art form consists of twenty-two metal light boxes with black and white transparencies. Many of the boxes are six feet in length. The images on the boxes are enlarged and fractured newspaper photographs of 1960's civil rights demonstrations in America. The boxes are stacked chaotically across the floor space of a large gallery. In several of these images are close-ups of crowds of feet bearing shoes from all walks of life walking quickly and closely in protest marches. Another image shows a crowd of feet running from the police. Alfedo Jaar was shocked on his arrival in New York in 1981 at the pervasiveness of racial inequality in the United States. I marveled at this visual narrative by a Hispanic artist on African American culture in the US. I was captivated by the images of the feet walking, the story was being told in footsteps.
This curriculum unit elaborates on Michel de Certeau's references to the daily practices that articulate "place" and "space". Stories, he says, carry out a labor that continually transforms places into spaces. I have found an interesting metaphor in his use of the terms "maps", "tours" and "paths" as he alludes to the operations of oral narration. In the structure of the travel story journeys and actions are marked out by the "citation" of the places that result from them or authorize them. I am inspired by his references to drawings on maps of the medieval era that outlined not the route but the log of the journey on foot. 14 He describes the map as "a totalizing stage, on which elements of diverse origin are brought together to form the tableau of a state of geographic knowledge." Maps constitute proper places in which to exhibit the products of knowledge. 15 In this curriculum unit students will look at the work of artists who utilize maps in their work. Class activities addressing the Visual Art Essential Standards for Visual Response will have as their objective students' creative interpretations of their own travel stories in map-like visualizations of the invisible cities of their psychogeography. Psychogeography is a relatively new term used to describe artists' mapping of systems and relationships rather than imagery. The use of maps and cartographic motifs by artists has grown in popularity since the 1960's. In artistic terms the language of maps has evolved beyond the utilitarian plotting of routes and destinations to serving as a backdrop for statements about politically or psychologically imposed boundaries. 16 Contempary artists working as urban storytellers and urban geographers are referenced throughout this unit.
The Great Khan owns an atlas in which are gathered the maps of all the cities: those whose walls rest on solid foundations, those which fell in ruins and were swallowed up by the sand, those that will exist one day and in whose place now only hares' holes gape. 17
Queen cities, a teacher's travel story
Through the narration of my own travel story I will model reflective practice for my students and demonstrate how this process is evocative of memory and metaphor.
The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from a mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them. 18
The city of my birth is Cincinnati, Ohio. She nestles along a gentle curve of the Ohio River anchoring the corners of three states and then spreads her arms upward around seven gently rolling hills. Her topography, similar to that of the city of Rome, provided inspiration for her name in honor of Cincinnatus theRomangeneral and dictator, who saved the city ofRomefrom destruction and then quietly retired to his farm. Settled by immigrants who valued hard work and industry, her prosperity rose rapidly. On May 4, 1819, Ed. B. Cooke wrote in the Inquisitor and Cincinnati Advertiser, "The City is, indeed, justly styled the fair Queen of the West: distinguished for order, enterprise, public spirit, and liberality, she stands the wonder of an admiring world." 19 'Cincinnati, the Queen City' continues today as a marketable identity and an affectionate moniker. My ancestors were European immigrants from Germany who settled in small towns just north of the city. They raised their families, working hard in trades and contributing to their communities. Generations later I called upon their courageous spirit, as I became an immigrant too. In 2005 I uprooted my home and family from Cincinnati, Ohio to accept a position to teach in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina.
The city of Charlotte, North Carolina is also nicknamed theQueen City, named for Queen Charlotte, wife of English King George III (1738-1820). She was born in 1744 directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese Royal House.She was the youngest daughter ofDuke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirowand his wifePrincess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In moving from her German homeland to marry King George of England, Charlotte too was an immigrant. That Queen Charlotte's ancestry was black is an interesting fact in consideration of the ethnic diversity of the present day city of Charlotte as a city of the south. Queen Charlotte was an ardent patron of the arts. People of European descent established Charlotte in 1755 at the intersection of two Native Americantrading pathways. The crossroads, perched atop thePiedmontlandscape, became the heart ofUptown Charlotte. 20
Walking in the city
The cities streets were streets were they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. 21
The act of walking, writes Michel de Certeau, is to the urban system what the speech act is to language. 22 Walking is a spatial acting out of a place and it implies relations among differentiated positions in the form of movements. 23 Walking feet, as they map the path of a journey, are the expressive phenomena of storytelling. Urban walking has been elevated as a theme in the work of many contemporary artists as they take to the streets in an attempt to raise important issues about cultural geographies of the city relating to lived experience and memory. Canadian artist Janet Cardiff remarkably interpreted Michel de Certeau's Walking in the City in her 1999 audio-walk entitled The missing voice. Set in East London, this 40-minute aural art form is performed as the artist's voice reaches you through headphones from a CD recording as you trace the paths of her footsteps along her pedestrian journey. 24 The steps that make up this solitary walking tour are both actual and illusory. Likened to vexations in Calvino's Invisible Cities, Cardiff asks us to think about the real and imagined spaces of the city and the tension that plays out between them.
The artwork literally takes place in the streets, finding its meaning through its personified enactments. In effect it is performed or co-created by participants. The journey of The missing voice begins with footsteps at Whitechapel Library and ends at an entrance of Liverpool Street station. As the walk unfolds the listener gathers a sense of being a participant in detective fiction, caught up in the narrative yet aware of its fabrication. 25 The listener hears the walker's voice along with a myriad of sounds such as directions, intercutting voices and bursts of music interspersed with the 'space-between' pauses. De Certeau refers to this as the "phatic" aspect, those utterances within speech that initiate, maintain, or interrupt. 26 The interweaving of recorded sounds with those heard naturally pulls the listener in and out of reality. Fragments of conversations mingle with the noises of the city such as vehicles, sirens and a passing parade. Instructions to turn this way or that, wait here or cross the road make one acutely aware of the rhythm, pace and breath of the practice of walking, at once tactile, aural, and visual-an activity that enunciates and gives shape to urban spaces, it 'spatializes'. 27 Cardiff's The missing voice is an excellent interpretation of what De Certeau described as the 'pedestrian speech act', an appropriation of a topographical system-a spatial acting out of a place. 28
Students will create a similar performance-based aural experience using iPad technology, or other digital audiovisual media. Students will work in small groups to record the footsteps of their journey from one class to another documenting in first person the sounds, sights, thoughts, and interjected snippets of conversations that occur between the ringing of class period bells. Students may work with or without a script, but should storyboard their thoughts and movements prior to capture. In creating their version of the Cardiff production, students will plot the architectonics-pathways, intersecting nodes, borders, landmarks and destinations-of a travel story as an organized walk, a spatial practice. The goal is to experience the perception of a phenomenon through what is seen (optics), heard (phonics) and what is known (mnemonics) in an interpretation that analyzes the kinetics (movements) and histrionics (persons, actions, scenarios) of storytelling through visual media. Care should be taken when using technology equipment in crowded environments.
The urgency for narrative through digital storytelling
Digital stories are short personally narrated multimedia productions. The process of creating a digital story opens paths of dialog through varied avenues of creative response around issues that are often marginalized or concerns that often remain silent. The telling of stories is enriched through practices in critical reflection, creative self-expression and collaboration. The voice of the storyteller is central to the digital narrative yet utilizes still and moving images to add a visual accompaniment to the spoken word. 29 In her work with undocumented migrants in Ireland, Darcy Alexandra worked to open up personal narratives of people whose lived experience had been silenced through the condition of their political and economic status. Alexandra's goal was to explore within the cultural context of contemporary Ireland how migrants define, make meaning and represent their own stories of migration and how the visual arts might serve as a medium of inquiry and practice. 30
Alexandra makes reference to the idea of a free space as developed by Michelle Fine in her work with marginalized youth in the United States. Fine developed the notion of the free space as a space in which people educate themselves beyond the borders of schooling. They come together to "critique what is, shelter themselves from what has been, redesign what might be and/or imagine what could be". 31 Alexandra facilitated a free space as a community of practice to serve as an alternative site for migrant generated discourse in the format of a storytelling workshop. In association with the theme of this unit, the free space community was an 'invisible city'. There those alienated from public spaces "entered public spaces on their own terms to problematize experiences of workplace exploitation, race-based discrimination and intense feelings of fear, isolation and grief." The free space digital workshops followed a highly interactive process as participants reflected individually and collectively on their experiences of migration, engaging in dialog with each other about their words, images, narrative flow and filmic transitions. Ultimately they combined spoken word with creative writing, recorded voice and images in three-minute digital productions conceived, edited and screened that narrated and represented their diverse realities as migrants. 32 The author contends that a dialectic approach to storytelling is purposefully different than testimonial performances typical afforded migrants in response to public policy on migration issues. Activities of storytelling that engage processes of remembering, meaning making and the re-constituting of lived experiences through the creation of a digital story address the multi-layered phenomena of migration and respond to the urgency for narrative. Thus investigative methods to storytelling allow the intellectual freedom to creatively engage one's experiences on one's own terms. 33
The "pedestrian speech act", 34 framing the familiar through digital storytelling
Inspired by Michel de Certeau's Walking in the City and Janet Cardiff's The missing voice, students will utilize digital video story telling to spatially act-out a place. Students will work in small collaborative groups to produce three-minute video presentations creatively capturing the visual and aural experience of walking their everyday "city"- the school hallway between class bells. This class activity seeks to open up a narrative to reveal multiple truths of intricate lived experiences. The multi-fold frame of knowledge and experience constitutes an essential aspect of students' responses to the phenomena of school based psychological and social boundaries and the need to respond to them in a positive way. The following steps in the dialectic approach to storytelling are adapted from Darcy Alexandra. 35
Foreground the voice
Form an oral story-sharing circle.
Students will talk about their experiences as migrants in the city, as students in the hallway.
Students will select the story they wish to tell. This produces greater ownership and relevancy to the process.
Allow time for reflection, writing, problem posing.
From this center navigate the process by selecting from diverse writing activities:
Write a letter to a relative, another student, a teacher.
Recall the memory of a phone call from a loved one, or a text or tweet from a friend.
Outline a linear and factual sequence of the events that led to a situation, such as undocumented status, missing out on a conversation or event.
Students will develop evocative prose while writing in school or at home and share scripts during the class.
Initial analysis of the story work
Students will consider how to visually engage their stories in ways that would open new pathways for understanding the story and not detract from the evocative centrality of the spoken voice.
Pose the challenge question: how can I produce images that could serve to visually represent complex and emotionally charged experiences of invisibility, discrimination, separation and fear?
The point of departure is the spoken word. Students will craft their words into a written script and digitally record them.
Transformational representation: the invisible becomes visible
Students will produce images useful to their stories. Students may also use photos from family archives as possible, copyright free source images from the Internet, or original photos taken expressly for purposes of expressing the story.
Students will create a storyboard to plan the visual expression/representation of the script.
Students will conceive, edit and screen a three-minute digital production.
"kicks", a digital photo essay
In the vernacular of the urban adolescent, sneakers or shoes with laces are commonly referred to as "kicks". Students are enamored with shoe culture and are seemingly devout in their attention to the latest styles and trends. As mentioned previously, I am particularly taken by the idea of walking feet, as they map the path of journey, as the expressive phenomenon of storytelling. The images of feet walking in Alfredo Jaar's The Fire Next Time, 1989 that visually played in my mind as a metaphorical element are in fact contextually related to a broader socio-political message conveyed in the complete work. In this class activity students will work in small groups to create photo essays of a more light-hearted nature in utilizing photography to express common social narratives from the point of view of pavement-level perspectives of peoples' feet. Students' metaphorical journeys will become "pedestrian speech acts" as devices for storytelling through ground level views of "kicks", of students' feet walking.
In "Walking in the City", Michel De Certeau describes "the chorus of idle footsteps".
Their story begins on ground level with footsteps. They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because ecach unit has a qualitative character: as tyle of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. 36
Students will consider how body language can communicate social interactions even when viewed at ground level. Students will brainstorm to determine possible stories they wish to tell and how best to convey the story within established limitations. Students will consider what types of social interactions can be defined in their step gestures. Students will stage arrangements of student subjects as seen from ground level views of their "kicks", their feet. The staged students will be photographed against a background of other students' moving feet as they are seemingly moving about from one place to another between class periods. Students' interactions will be photographically captured for their storytelling capacities. The following questions may provide students with direction:
How can it seem obvious to the viewer what is going on in the rest of the figures' bodies that remain unseen? How many feet are needed to story-tell an argument, a romance, athletic enthusiasm, struggle, debate, teasing, lunchroom clamor, tardy to class? What type/style of shoes tell the story? How is age, gender, ethnic culture conveyed by the shoes? What gestures or motions will be important in conveying the intended story? Students will present their photo essays in a public display in the school. Consider the possibility of having the photographs enlarged to poster size to increase their visual impact as storytelling devices. Critique the images and their appropriate installation. Is a script necessary or do the footsteps tell the story?
The poetry of the city is visible and invisible
During our seminar, we looked at poetic writings by Larwrence Ferlinghetti, a San Francisco based poet and Luci Tapahonso, a Native American writer of the Dine` Nation of Navajo. In their writings the poetic beauty of the travel story is interwoven in poetry and prose that enraptures their readers in sensate experiences of time, place, and culture.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's San Franciso Poems, 2001 is a collection of works by the city's award winning Poet Laureate. In his Inaggural Address, given on acceptance of this prestigious honor, Ferlinghetti comments on the radical changes in the city since his arrival years ago. He recounts his travel story.
When I arrived in the City in 1950, I came overland by train and took ferry from the Oakland mole to the Ferry Building. And San Francisco looked like some Mediterranean port-a small white city, with mostly white buildings-a little like Tunis seen from seaward. I thought it was Atlantis risen from the sea. I certainly saw North Beach especially as a poetic place, as poetic as some quarters in Paris, as any place in old Europa, as poetic as any place great poets and painters had found inspiration. 37
He read to his audience his first poem written there and then paused to lament that the city as it looks now resembles a theme park, overrun by tourists. The poetry of the city was gone. He asked his listeners to ponder what it is that happens to destroy the poetry of a city? Once a diverse metropolis that welcomed immigrants and refuges from around the world, the city had evolved into a "homogeneous, wealthy enclave". 38 Ferlinghetti espoused that it is the arts, literary culture and small independent businesses that hold the hope of restoring and sustaining the poetry of the city and thus its livability.
In Blue Horses Rush In, 1997 Luci Tapahonso writes of the strength of the Dine` people that is grounded in family practice, community kinship, stories, songs and prayers that preserve their traditions even when far from the Dine` lands. Luci writes,
For today, allow me to share Ho`zho`, the beauty of all things being right and proper as in songs the Holy Ones gave us. They created the world, instilling stories and lessons so we would know Diyin surrounds us. Our lives were set by precise prayers and stories to ensure balance. Grant me the humor Dine` elders relish so. No matter what, let the Dine` love of jokes, stories, and laughter create some Ho`zho`. Some days, even after great coffee, I need to hear a song to reasure me the dsitance from Dine`tah is not a world away. I know the soft hills, plains, and wind are Diyin also. Yet I plan the next trip when we will say prayers in the dim driveway. 39
Probing for travel stories through collage writing
Students will be guided to probe their own expereinces for travel stories through a writing strategy known as the collage. In his book Writing with Power, Peter Elbow explains how this strategy works to produce creative response. A collage is not a single perfectly connected train of explicit thinking or narrative. Rather, it is a collection of writing fragments arranged poetically, intuitively, randomly without transitions or connectives. Its joints remain invisible. The nature of collage is to invite intuition therefore collage writing invites students to create actively out of their own consciousness. Gaps in chronology are abandoned in favor of glimpses, daydreams, scraps of dialog, meditations and reminiscences. 40
Traditional essays are a loose form of writing with a strong conversational thread that sometimes becomes chatty or associative in structure. The collage essay utilizes a loop writing process. The first step is to do lots of raw writing. Then look through it to find the good bits, polish them up, then, as footsteps on the floor, lay them out before you to find the best order for them. In a collage essay its thread is invisible. You get this implied thread to assert itself as you arrange the good bits of writing in the right order. One often discovers a surprising coherence lurking in a pile of good pieces. 41
Collage essay, exploring poetic meaning
The process of evoking stimmuli for their travel stories will begin as students write a collage essay that explores the meaning of a poem. Suggested are the poems Dog by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 42 or It Was by Luci Tapahonso 43. The poem Dog follows the wanderings of a dog as he trots down a city street. The things he notices there are his reality. It Was is a poem of longing for a place through remembrances of the sights and sounds and emotions lived there. Students will be given a copy of their choice of poems and asked to annotate the words or phrases that provide a mental picture. Students will then write in response to these annotations juxtaposing brief passages from the poem with incidents from their own travel experience or from their family's history of living in the city. Students will respond to ten to twelve annotations from the poem writing their papragraphs on small quarter size sheets of paper. These will then be spread out and rearranged as students look for the invisible thread that they will metaphorically weave into the writing of their own travel story. To summarize, the essential process of the collage essay is cut and paste revising. Students should be encouraged to avoid all rewriting, incoporate excerpts cleverly, prune out what sounds dull, and imaginatively rearrange the good bits allowing meaning to become evident. A collage essay requires that meaning is evoked through devices such as descriptions of scenes, portraits, small narratives, dialogues, or internal musings. In effect your writing should make your conceptual meaning "somehow give birth to itself in inside your reader's head." 44
Luci Tapahonso writes of sensate experiences that speak of the tradition among her people as each day begins such as the throwing prayers for seven generations. The following questions can serve to motivate students' written responses:
What are the sensate experiences of your daily journey? What daily rituals provide a sense of structure for you as you begin your daily journey? What do you see on your daily journey? What are the sayings of your journey such as morning prayers? What are the physical body movement routines you perform as you get ready for your day? What sounds do you hear, what patterns, are they pleasant or not? What songs or music do you like to listen to as your day begins? What are the smells of your daily journey? What blessings, kisses or hugs do you like to receive before you head out the door?
Contempary artists as urban geographers
Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts. 45
Cultural and personal geographies are a popular theme in the world of contemporary art where artists use maps and map-making as a metaphor for both location and dislocation in urban society. The utilitarian purposes of maps showing routes into and out of places by way of conventions of cartographic representation have given way to appropriations by artists who explore new terrains of lived experience. Artists use maps to respond to social, economic and political change and to orient themselves in a world of volatile cultural influences. Maps are selective about what they represent and for the contemporary artist the mapping of the products of knowledge is a selective process differentiating between collective and individual experience. 46
In her book The Map as Art, Katharine Harmon offers a stunning presentation of the myriad variations on the theme of urban geography. Postmodern media explorations in this genre are without restraint. Some artists include maps in their work adapting cartographic systems for their own purposes while others utilize the map's vocabulary of line and shape. Urban cartographers manipulate a wide variety of materials and techniques mirroring the diversity of contemporary artistic practice. They rip, shred, splice and dissect maps; they fold, pleat, weave and crumple them; they carve, burn, soak, twist, tear apart and sew together every imaginable material, even food, in breaking the rules of cartographic convention. Artists utilize maps to express memories, psychological states and futuristic visions. 47
In her article The Artist as Urban Geographer, Kathryn Brown provides an enlightening review of the work of urban cartographic artists Mark Bradford and Julie Mehretu. Both artists work with processes that reinvent the conventional grid structures of modern Western mapping. However, I was particularly drawn to the work of Bradford, a Los Angeles based artist. In his rugged surfaces on huge canvases Mark Bradford layers collage and painting juxtaposing text and image suggesting ways in which individuals attend to printed information when traversing a city. 48 This ties in eloquently with this unit's theme of the travel story. In teaching this unit presenting this artist will help students to make connections to the ways present day urban artists explore ideas and artistic processes to express relationships between individuals, communities and the city. Mark Bradford is featured in an episode of the award winning PBS program Art 21 that can be viewed through YouTube. Students should be offered the opportunity to view this episode either as assigned viewing at home or as a ten-minute class presentation utilizing small and large group discussions. In the video students will hear the artist speak and see him at work in his vigorous process of manipulating materials and collaborating with his assistants.
Bradford's "maps" are mixed media collages that incorporate actual urban textual ephemera such as scraps of signs and posters, discarded advertising, and other materials peeled off billboards gathered while walking the city. 49 Bradford's process offers an analogy in practice of "the pedestrian speech act" described by Michel de Certeau in Walking in the City. As a spatial acting out of a place, Bradford's walk through the city streets looking for pieces of urban text is akin to what de Certeau describes as movements through an "ensemble of possibilities". The walker actualizes some of these possibilities as he or she goes this way and that through the improvisations of walking, crossing, drifting away, creating shortcuts, detours and allowing himself or herself to take paths generally considered forbidden. He or she thus makes selections in the footsteps of his or her journey. "The user of a city picks out certain fragments of the statement in order to actualize them in secret". 50
Brown's article mentions comments by cultural geographer Denis Cosgrove about the overwhelming amount of written language in contemporary cities and the tension that this generates between textual and pictorial legibility of urban spaces. Cosgrove describes the experience of individuals on the street as confrontational as the volume and rapid turnover and replacement of written information in modern cities contributes to the illegibility of metropolitan spaces as a whole. Bradford's work exploits the tensions that exist between word and image in both the representation and the experience of the city. Yet, his multiple layers of different forms of written language and advertising that inform individuals' experiences of the streets produce a new legibility and imagining of urban space. 51 Bradford's work brings about a new visibility of the city's invisible.
Bradford's collages call into question the type of knowledge traditionally conveyed by maps and the organization and communication of knowledge about the spaces they represent. In Bradford's Los Moscos, the title is not a place name but a slang reference to migrant workers in Los Angeles who were mostly of Hispanic origin. In this work Bradford creates an aerial viewpoint of the city through found materials while creating a sense of place through the inclusion of trace references of a particular community. Instead of the traditional cartographic function of labeling and demarcation, language provides evidence of the existence of communities whose presence is not necessarily brought to light on traditional maps of the city. In the context of Calvino's Invisible Cities, Bradford's work suggests the potential of the map to permit a new way of conveying information about places and the people who inhabit them. 52
Mapping a personal geography
Through the inspirations of Mark Bradford and other contemporary artists working with concepts of maps students will design and create an original work of art that effectively communicates their travel story. The collage essay process will serve as the stimulus of visualization for imagery that will be used in the creation of an original work of art through which students will explore their personal geographies. Students will create works of art with map-like qualities as the mapping of their vision, the product of their knowledge, the footprints of their journey. A mixed media approach will prove most efffective for the production of student work. Like Marco Polo in Calvino's Invisible Cities, teachers and students alike will find it a great adventure to explore the world of possibilities in materials useful for mapping personal geographies. Two highly recommended sources of motivations are the books by Katharine Harmon and Jill Berry listed in the appendix of resources. A readily accessible classroom technique that may be of interest is crayon and India ink batik on commercial maps. The resulting networks of linear elements suggestive of roads and routes will add an additional layer of exploration that students may traverse to uncover their "invisible cities". Present finished work for public view within the school as evidence of the arts as renewable community.
With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. 53
Travel stories, as products of memory, can conjure up deep emotions. Poetry is the true language of emotion. Poetry succeeds where ordinary speech fails to communicate those urgent and elusive feelings that are most essentially human. 54 In their book The Heath Guide to Poetry, Bergman and Epstein suggest that poetry communicates the emotion of discovering thought. The poet writes what is most important at a given moment yet, if he or she writes with intensity and clarity years later the verse can still seem important to the reader. Thus great poetry is eternally fresh. How does the poet do this? The poet writes by suiting the words and the rhythm of the language perfectly to the experience in such a way that we cannot imagine it being said any better. 55
Our time to read literature is often limited therefore we look to poets to grab our attention. The look of a poem does this. There is ususally more white space around poems that other types of literature. Poems somehow say they are special. They earn their space on the page and in our attention. 56 How does a poem come to us? The poem comes to us because the poet wishes to share the expereince of his or her discovery. 57 Travel stories are an effective motivation for poetry because in the delight of recounting the memory, the vision, the sensate expereinces of the journey, the poet is discovering something about him or her self. The collage writing excercsie will provide students with bits of narrative prose that can easily segue into the writing of a narative poem.
The first narrative and storytelling poems recounted the adventures of great heroes and their relationships with gods and forces of the underworld. Often these stories would convey a nation's origin and history sometimes in a very entertaining fashion. Poet-reciters were called bards and, much like Marco Polo before Khan in Invisible Cities, they regaled at courts with long heroic tales. 58 Narrative poems rely on rhythms, or stock phrases, used over and over again. Using rhythmic phrases allowed the illiterate bards, to recite their epics long into the night. This is the same technique that helps parents tell bedtime stories with phrases that are recounted and reworked over and over again. Each night the story is told using roughly the samewords but with each retelling it becomes a different oration. 59
Another technique of the narative poem is that there are rarely transitions from one scene to another. A narative poem works in a manner similar to a film often shifting instantaneously from one scene to another. We do not necessarily begin at the beginning of the story but rather in medias res, Latin for in the middle of things. 60 The shorter the poem, the more concentrated will be the action. In very concentrated poems sometimes only the pinnacle is presented. Additionally, a feature of narative poems is the ommision of certain scenes. Sometimes scenes are entirely missing, yet the rhythm and music of the poem provide the continuity we might have missed if it were a prose account. Poetry allows us to switch the camera, as it were, to another moment, another view allowing us to discern or feel what happened without it being shown.
Today's narrative poets tell personal or family histories that are more likely to be forgotten in the future. 61 Narrative poems can be about what is noticed along a journey, as in Lawrence Ferlighetti's poem Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes 62 or they can reflect familial, political or cultural history as in Luci Tapahonso's A Birthday Poem 63. In the traditional prose story the writer wants to make the scene so vivid that we look beyond the words and feel that we are actually present in the scene. In contrast, at crucial moments the poet draws our attention to the language. Many of Luci Tapahoso's poems include the paralleling of her phrases in her native Dine` language. The rhythms of the language, even in its printed form, communicate the Dine` Nation's honor and reverence for their native tongue and convey that certain emotions can only be felt in the language itself. Like short stories, narrative poems may contain characters, a setting, conflict and dialog amid a single significant action but these elements are more condensed and the plot concerns are less important. 64 The story is secondary to the action of the language. It is this concern with language that makes a poetic narrative for both the intended audience and the contemporary reader. 65
It is the goal of this unit that students reflect on explicit journeys and communicate them as art that renews a community. Students will write a poetic response to their travel story then work in small groups to record their poem in digital video through an oral poetry reading. In her book Oral Poetry Ruth Finnegan writes that though oral poetry, as any written literature has a verbal text, a piece of oral literature must be performed. The circumstances of the performance of a piece of poetry are a primary consideration necessary for the actualization of the piece and integral to its identity. 66 Similar to the reworked phrases of the bedtime story, an oral poem differently performed or performed at a different time or to a different audience is, in fact, a different poem. In essence an oral poem is an ephemeral work of art and has no existence or continuity apart from its performance. The personality and skill of the performer, the nature of the audience and its reaction, the context and purpose of the verbal text-these are the critical aspects of the artistry of the oral poem that define its meaning. 67
Inherent to both the reading and oration of poetry in the notion of the rhythm that gives form to a poem. We tend to think of this mainly in terms of meter which comes from the ancient Greek and Roman models. 68 Metermeans "measurement," and in poetry, it refers to the repeating pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the lines of a poem. The unit of measurement in poetry is called a metrical foot, which is a set of syllables, usually two or three, with only one receiving a strong stress. A metrical "foot" in poetry comes from the ancient Greek, when poetry, as in the tragic choruses, was danced, and the meter was embodied in the footwork. 69 When stresses occur at regular intervals, the poetry is said to have meter. 70 In manyWesternclassical poetic traditions, the metre of a verse can be described as a sequence offeet each foot being a specific sequence of syllable types-such as relatively unstressed/stressed (the norm forEnglishpoetry) or long/short (as in most classicalLatinandGreekpoetry). 71 This is an interesting consideration for this unit in keeping with Michel de Certeau's idea that footsteps tell stories.
Finnegan goes on to describe other prosidic elements found in the oral poem that contribute to rhythm such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, tonal repetition and paralleism. Rhythm is not a physical concept, but a cultural and relevant one. 72 Much oral poetry is directly associated with rhythmic movements. Cultural aspects of rhythm are naturally aparent in oral poetry and help to decorate the physical movements. This is clear in sung lyrics such as revivalist hymns and many popular songs where the singers make movements in time to the rhythm of the song: swaying, twisting, clapping, or beating time. Oral performance of any piece tends to produce some movements that chime in with the rhythm, yet there is an intrinsic rhythm in the verbal utterance of the sound patterns of the piece itself. 73
Parallelism is a type of repetition in oral poetry in which one element of pattern is changed while the other-usually the syntactic frame-remains constant. Paralleism occurs in Navaho poetry where there is no meter in a strict sense but the stanzas into which the songs are divided are based on this idea of parallels. Luci Tapahonso writes,
- She is adorned with turquoise.
- She is adorned with lakes that sparkle in the sunlight. 74
Repetition is some from is a defining characteristic of oral poetic style through repetition of phrases, lines or verses or the use of paralleism. Oral poetry, like anything transmitted through an oral medium is ephemeral. Once said, it cannot be recaptured in the same way again. In consideration of the audience, an oral creator or performer has a certain obligation to use expression which is immediately understandable to the listeners. For this reason the use of recurring phrases, refrains, and choruses allows the listening audience to more effectively participate by helping them to hold onto what has just happened and what is coming next. 75
Students will create an oral poem that narrates an episode from their family history that they have either lived or heard about that is in danger of being forgotten. 76 Students' oral poems will be recorded as digital video. Students will generate a QR code for their digital performance. This code will be printed and mounted to the display label for their completed map art project. Viewers of the art works may use mobile device technology to access the students' oral poetry as a performance layer of presentation of their travel stories.
THANK YOU — your feedback is very important to us! Give Feedback