These Poems Are About Us

Reintroducing the Spark & Stitch "We Need Each Other" Poetry Project

“That part is about me!” my youngest remarked proudly as we read our family poem out loud. Without hearing his name, he knew that the phrase “planetary sparkle” was his part of our story.

We had just finished a personalized family poetry session with Spark & Stitch partner poet Diver Van Avery. It had begun like everything in our home ten months into the pandemic – slightly chaotic, a bit late (how were we late for things when we never left our house?), and snuck into a day packed with Google meets, calls, and constantly overlapping needs. 

The session was short and closely mirrored the state of our lives at the time. As Diver asked simple questions about life together, our kids were squirrelly and our responses far from carefully constructed. After a raw and raucous conversation I wondered to myself, “I hope something comes out of this!” 

Soon Diver asked us to put the phone on mute so they could craft our poem. We obliged and for the first time that day everyone fell quiet as we listened to the tap, tap, tap of the typewriter on the other end of the line. 

“It’s ready for you!” Diver finally said and started reading our family poem out loud over the phone. 

Halfway through, my youngest interrupted again to say to me, “You’re crying!” My oldest, always eager to inform his younger brother about the ways of life, was pleased to remind him, “Of course she is crying. She’s happy! This poem is about us.”

Two kids standing in the hallways reading their family poem

The power of witnessing

In a recent interview with PBS, editor Alice Quinn shared that poets take on “the role of the witness in culture” and, as such, are especially powerful mirrors for us during times of transformation and change.

This witnessing was part of what made me cry during our family poem. Parenting can sometimes feel invisible. It is marked by wildly mundane yet exhausting juggling acts day after day. There aren’t that many opportunities to get the distance we need to process the challenges and the delights of our little family systems.

Poetry creates evidence of where we have been together and who we are to each other.

Kids crave witnesses and meaning as well. During the pandemic, I wrote about the protective power of family narratives in building resilience. Family stories don’t have to be perfect. Indeed, kids benefit most from “oscillating narratives” that make visible our strengths through the ups and downs of our lives. Whether we narrate it for them or not, our kids are answering questions like, “Who are we? What do we care about? How do we take care of each other?” 

Our family poem still hangs in our hallway outside the bathroom. It has become part of the backdrop of our daily routines. As our kids tumble down the hallway, they often knock it askew. I find myself constantly pausing to re-align it. This regular repair is both maddening and moving – just like parenting. Yesterday I bumped the frame while carrying an overflowing laundry basket down the hallway. I didn’t have time to fix it. Later I saw my youngest pause in the hallway and carefully pull the top part of the frame level. He quickly scanned the words in front of him before pounding down the stairs to join his friends. 

The poetry of these moments is not lost on me.

Re-Introducing the “We Need Each Other Poetry Project”

Our own family poem emerged from the “Family Poetry Project” that we launched during the pandemic. We are re-introducing this creative offering now as the “We Need Each Other Poetry Project.”

We still invite families to participate. But families don’t thrive in isolation. We are held up by the networks of connections that sustain us. As the Harvard Center on the Developing Child reminds us, “Resilience requires relationships, not rugged individualism.”

Participants in the first iteration of the project understood this before we did. They were already commissioning poems for kids, siblings, elders, educators, and neighbors. They were already asking Diver to write poems focused on partnerships, places, animals, births and passings.

This creative offering is about acknowledging that we need each other. It’s about acknowledging that there is something beautiful in the raw, raucous, and often askew. It’s an invitation to pause long enough to tend to the frame and bear witness to the relationships that hold us up and get us through.

Fair warning though – you might cry when you hear what emerges from these sessions. After all, these poems are about us.