POETRY FOR THE PRESENT
Poetry for the Present is a series of poetry writing workshops for LGBTQA+ youth and allies residing in Centre County. This program invites young people to unleash their imaginative powers and explore language and poetry as a grounds for investigating their voices, identities, and perspectives on the world around them.
Digital and occasional in-person workshops take place throughout the school year with middle and high school GSAs and other queer-friendly youth groups in the Centre region. As of spring 2022, Poetry for the Present workshops are led by poet Kayleb Candrilli and take place primarily with the Penns Valley School District's Diversity Club.
Above: Diversity Club students participate in a digital poetry workshop with teaching poet Kayleb Candrilli. Below: Diversity Club faculty advisor Sarah Farrant with Ridgelines co-director Abby Minor celebrating National Coming Out Day at Penns Valley.
From 2018 through 2021, Poetry for the Present workshops were led digitally by nationally recognized poet and organizer Nico Amador. In 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic halted in-person programming, teaching poet Brooklyn Leonhardt collaborated with Ridgelines to design and distribute a Creative Wellness Workbook for local LGBTQA+ youth and allies.
In developing Poetry for the Present, Ridgelines is responding to the lack of platforms for queer and trans youth voices in our region, as well as to the dearth of expert, extracurricular creative writing instruction for youth in general. This program was developed in collaboration with the Centre LGBTQA Support Network and has been supported in part by the Centre Foundation’s Centre Children’s Fund.
‘WRITING WELL IS THE ABILITY TO BE MYSELF THROUGH MY WRITING’:
A Spotlight on Poetry for the Present Participant Tyler Ryland
Local young writer Tyler Ryland is a participant in Centre LGBTQA Support Network’s youth group, Bring Your Own Queer. Through BYOQ, Tyler participated in several 2020-2021 Ridgelines workshops taught by poet Nico Amador, a leading voice for queer and trans poets. Below, Tyler reflects on those and other writing experiences:
How did creative writing come into your life?
Creative writing came into my life in 6th grade when my teacher introduced me to poetry. I remember writing about my emotions at the time, since 6th grade was when I started really realizing that I was different from other people, due to me being autistic.
What are the pleasures and the challenges of writing for you?
Some of the pleasures of writing are seeing the story coming together and creating characters that aren't bland. Some of the challenges are finding time to write and finding the motivation to write. I am good at creating stories in my head, but when I attempt to write them for the first time, I find it difficult to get them on the page.
When you face that difficulty, how do you find your way into writing?
Sometimes, especially during COVID, I have to let go of trying. […] I find my way into writing by letting go of perfectionism and fear of being judged/criticized. I've only recently started to get this idea myself. As an autistic person, my brain is constantly going 1,000 miles a second. I've learned that to become successful writers, we have to practice being mindful while writing, and that means slowly weeding away the negative thoughts when it comes to wanting to master writing or any skill and just let the pencil (or keyboard) do its thing. Then after, you can always make changes.
You participated in both of Nico Amador's 2020-2021 events with BYOQ, a poetry workshop and then a reading of his work. What did you take away from those experiences?
In the first session, I felt anxious because I wasn't sure how it would go. However, over the two sessions I learned writing comes from who you are as a person and your experiences. I learned this especially in the second session when Nico talked about how he used poetry to cope with his identities and how it helped him get through difficult times. His poetry was extraordinarily brilliant, and I could see his passion through his works. Although I don't share the same identities as him, I realized I'd been ignoring the real reason I desire to write well: to find my way back to who I am. This became especially apparent during this year as I dealt with imposter syndrome and felt that I wasn't "autistic enough" to be autistic. Attending Nico’s sessions was both educational, as we got to learn about writing poetry, and eye-opening, as I realized that I had been approaching writing completely wrong. Writing well is not writing how I think I should write, but the ability to be myself through my writing.
Plans for a summer program, as outlined below, remain on our radar although on hold. Please check back for updates!