Students create ‘digital poetry’ as part of Lawrence Arts Center program

Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student Monika Hoffman has moved a lot in her 13 years. As part of a military family, she has lived in three countries and as many states. But she said she hadn’t really considered that experience until a recent digital poetry project at school.

“Because usually if you’re a military kid, you kind of get used to moving around, you just get used to doing all that stuff,” she said. “And actually writing it down, you realize the people that you’ve seen and then left. It’s just one of those things that you don’t realize until you take a broader perspective from it.”

As part of a school-based artist in residency program with the Lawrence Arts Center, all seventh-grade students at Liberty Memorial spent 10 weeks on the digital poetry project. The students created short films composed of videos, photos and stylized text to present their poems. For the poetry portion, the students were encouraged to focus on introspection, said Marlo Angell, the center’s digital media director and film curator.

“I was really trying to teach them that each student is unique in the way that they perceive the world, and that’s the story that they have to tell,” said Angell, who worked in conjunction with the students’ English teachers for the course of the project. “So whatever observation they have, whatever viewpoint they’re seeing their surroundings from, that’s where their writing should come from.”

The Digital Poetry Project was created with support from the Zinn family in memory of author and poet Rebecca Zinn. More than 150 students participated in the project, and many of their films will be on display Friday as part of Liberty Memorial’s Museum Night. The films are about two minutes long and will be projected for visitors. In addition, Angell will select about 10 of the films to be screened during the center’s upcoming Free State Festival, June 20-25.

During their English class period, students worked with Angell and photographers and participated in poetry workshops using a Japanese style of poetry called the haibun. Angell said the haibun focuses on observational and present-tense writing, and students were encouraged to find a subject that mattered to them.

“Some people wrote about food, some people wrote about their parents’ divorce, some people wrote about imagining themselves as an animal,” Angell said.

Since the students created the story from their perspective, Monika said she made hers about a girl who moved.

“It’s kind of about how you tell your story to different people as you go, and as the story develops everybody kind of has a little piece of it,” she explained.

The writing process took about five weeks, and students had to come up with at least 20 lines. Angell said making the writing personal was key, and it involved lots of brainstorming exercises to figure out what was important to the students, “whether it was humorous, emotional or transitional.” For the visuals, students shot video and photos around their school and at South Park.

“I really wanted to encourage them to write about things that they could externalize with images, because that’s my background as a filmmaker,” Angell said. “It wouldn’t be something that would just be consumed with the written word.”

The students’ projects can be viewed during Museum Night, which takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Liberty Memorial, 1400 Massachusetts St.