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My Library: Helen

We will soon be wrapping up Writing Through Memory: Memoir and Storytelling, a ten week workshop we have been hosting at the Kingsbridge Branch, brought to us through the Creative Aging program from Lifetime Arts. After a recent class, I caught up with one of the students, Helen.

What brings you to the library today?

I'm here for another session of the Memoir Workshop taught by a fantastic teacher, Lauren Jost.

What made you take the memoir class?

I actually looked into it for a neighbor of mine who said she wanted to write her own memoirs. At the time, I didn't think my own stories were anything special, so what would I have to write about? But I like writing poetry about other people and history. Nearing sixty years old, I've gone back to college to get an MFA in creative writing and after talking to Rabecca who was so very enthused about the program and Lauren who taught it last year, she convinced me that I would indeed have a great time. And she's right!

How has the experience been? What have you most enjoyed about it?

I love everything about it: the chance to write; Lauren, our awesome, bright, insightful fun teacher; my classmates (they are so smart and sharp and want to be there, want to write too; I laugh and cry over their stories and many anecdotes and feel so fortunate to be with these wonderful people—how passionate each one is about their project, their stories—and their lives.)

And I love the space of the new Kingsbridge Branch: the community room is intimate with its warm-colored wood walls and carpet, yet large enough not to feel crowded. And when we're done: I go out onto the library floors and enjoy reading the books. Rabecca is such a rad librarian: so calm, so helpful in getting material for me. So is the rest of the staff.

What else do you come to the library for?

I am a bibliophile, a lover of books. I love to be surrounded by books. I just love the feel and touch and smell of books—not to mention their reading contents!

Ever since I was little, one of my favorite places to be was in a library. Imagine: my local branch was L-shaped, with the two strokes opening out to a terrace (called a "lanai" in Hawai'i.)

The view from this library terrace was of these beautiful mountains in Honolulu called Tanatalus and Punchbowl (yes, actually looks like a punchbowl viewed from the sky). A gentle wind would continually waft through the fragrant plumeria flower trees. I'd sit out there when the sun wasn't overhead: reading. Or when it rained this gentle soft Hawaiian rain, the sides of the library facing out to the terrace were wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, left open, so we could get the fresh air even if it was raining.

Punchbowl., Digital ID g90f159_016f, New York Public LibraryBecause I am in school, I do use the library to do research. Last semester I took a children's literature class and read a lot of children's books because of this.

I do appreciate the opportunity one can have to use the computers but since I have one at home, and I so do love books, I haven't used the technology available.

I so appreciate that every book I have requested a hold on was in the library system and I could pick up these publication at the branch of my preference—so far I've used the Kingsbridge, the Mosholu, the 145th St. branch in Manhattan for this service.

And I don't just use the Kingsbridge Branch. Since I love libraries, I plan to visit almost all the libraries in the NYPL system, both the Bronx and Manhattan, and perhaps a few on Staten Island.

How long have you been writing?

Since I was in the third grade, on and off.

What do you like to write about? What inspires you?

I am from Hawai'i and miss it very much. I've been writing a very long poem about the place I came from. When I was a kid, I didn't hear a history of this place, even told "it didn't have a history except for the sugarcane." But it has a very rich history that goes back to the ancient Hawaiians and then to geological time. Even the times I lived there, my family, it being along the famous Pearl Harbor (where WWII in the Pacific began) is part of that history story.

With school ending for the spring semester, I am looking to work on this manuscript during the summer.

Would you share a piece of your writing with us?

Thank you for letting me share. This is an acrostic poem: the first letter of every line spells a word when arranged chronologically; in this case it's "poetry."


Please, put the dinner
On the table
Even though I might be late. Oh, please,
Try to wait for me.
Read by the open window; unlatch the gate; expect me.
You, my communion, my Eucharist, my feast.

What are you reading right now? Any favorites?

Because my MFA concentration is in poetry, I do read a lot of poetry books. Currently, I am so enjoying the poet David Ferry's own poetry and his translations of the Greek and Latin classicists.

I also took a 17th century poetry course this spring and discovered I love the poetry of that era. Those poets were so smart: weaving the classics and allusions to myths into their work as well as their concerns and convictions of their history, politics, social and sexual issues, they writing so well that I just want to read more and more of their work.

Any other projects you are working on right now you'd like to share?

I'm hoping to curate a poetry reading program, here in the Bronx, featuring Bronx poets, famous and emerging, young and old, poets of Latino and other cultural groups, slam, hip-hop.

I'm also working with City College's Poetry Outreach Center where they send poets into the classrooms. I just finished training for something similar with Community Word Project who send poets, visual & performing artists into classrooms, afterschool and other child-oriented programs—and programs similar to the memoir class here at Kingsbridge.

Thank you so much Helen for taking the time to talk with me today! If you'd like to hear more from Helen and other writers from the memoir workshop, please join us for the culminating event Wednesday, June 5th, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Participants will be sharing excerpts of their memoirs created during the class through readings and storytelling.

Also, please show your support for our libraries and programs like this by signing a letter to help the Library fight a $47 million City budget cut!


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