Poetry, music and art offer healing at El Progreso d’Uvalde Public Library

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“Shhhh” is not a sound you will hear at the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde. Since the tragic massacre at Robb Elementary School on May 24, the public library has been filled with the loud voices of children playing in the children’s book area, yelps and cries of rescue dogs at a recent event, and superhero-themed bouncy house fans in the 30-foot rotunda during a festival in mid-June.

On Saturday, the sounds of San Antonio musician Rudi Harst singing and playing guitar could be heard as wife Zet Baer and fellow visual artists Joan Frederick gently guided the youngsters in applying watercolors and layers of colorful sticky tape on blank sheets of paper, creating playful collages.

Harst wandered among the tables and improvised lyrics about what he observed. “There’s Seth sitting with a big brush!” One day, at the library, no one says “hush”.

In another part of the vast building, poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Jenny Browne led an open poetry workshop, asking children to conjure up thoughts and then put them into words on index cards.

After receiving advice from Browne that ‘sweetness’, ‘teachers’ and ‘memory’ are all good words for poems, 11-year-old Sarai read her poem aloud: ‘Lamas remind me of my third teacher , but dogs remind me of my fourth, so when I think of animals, it makes me happy.

As the poet laureate of the Poetry Foundation Young People and a friend of a Uvalde resident who lost his great-niece Layla Salazar in the shooting, Nye felt driven to contribute to the traumatized community in any way that could help.

She learned from a friend that San Antonio scholar Ricardo Romo had made a connection with El Progreso director Mendell Morgan, who views the library as a community resource and a gathering place for anyone in need. focused distraction and positive energy.

“I view the role of the library as a civic and cultural center, a hub for the community,” Morgan said.

At first, Morgan thought he should close the library out of respect for the hurting families, “but then I thought, no, that wouldn’t help them. … The best way to help them would be to try to make the library a haven, a refuge, a respite, a place of escape because many of us find a wonderful escape through reading. It’s a way to grow, to get information to get out of ourselves and our circumstances.

Driven by Romo’s suggestion, Nye gathered a group of artist friends to organize a healing creative and visual arts workshop, free and open to everyone. By early Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen children of various ages had crowded around tables filled with craft supplies, including markers, pens, crayons, scissors, books and magazines for scraps of collage.

Jayce Carmelo Luevanos is one of 19 slain Robb Elementary students whose names adorn the ‘tunnel of love’ in the library’s lobby, a makeshift memorial and depository for sent gifts and cards to Uvalde from all over the United States. The 8-year-old friend of Luevanos Pedro watched his siblings and other children busy making, gluing and painting. Noah, 11 and ready to enter sixth grade, made a miniature hat from a peace sign, adorned with orange ribbon and dyed bird feathers.

San Antonio visual artist Zet Baer (left) helps 7-year-old Eleanor Hernandez create artwork during a healing arts workshop held by a group of San Antonio-based artists in the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde on Saturday. Credit: Bria Woods/San Antonio Report

Earlier, 7-year-old Brandon, who was due to attend second grade at Robb Elementary before the decision to close the school, painted a colorful bird that he said wanted to eat a dinosaur.

When his grandmother Dianna Diaz brought Brandon to Nye and Browne in the poetry room, the bird’s hunger mellowed into an appetite for the more traditional avian food of worms.

Browne and Nye said the purpose of the workshop is not to set expectations for specific outcomes, but only to create the conditions where creativity can help a person process their thoughts and feelings. One of the purposes of poetry, Browne said, is to “find a silence where you can hear yourself thinking.”

Nye said they also had no expectations of how many community members might show up for the workshop or what they might get out of attending. “Maybe good things will happen to us tomorrow because of today,” she said.

Brandon Maldonado (left), 7, and his grandmother, Dianna Diaz (center), smile as he presents his poetry and artwork to San Antonio poet Naomi Shihab Nye during a healing workshop visual arts organized by a group of artists from San Antonio at the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde on Saturday.
Brandon Maldonado, 7, and his grandmother, Dianna Diaz, smile as they present their poetry and artwork to San Antonio poet Naomi Shihab Nye during a healing arts workshop hosted by a group of artists from San Antonio at the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde. Credit: Bria Woods/San Antonio Report

Sitting with Mendell over a loaded vegetarian pizza as the poetry portion of the workshop died down, Browne suggested it might be worth continuing the poetry and healing workshops after the intensity of the past few months has subsided. calmed down. Nye agreed wholeheartedly. “We could come back!” she says.

“Please,” Morgan said, without hesitation.

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