Saturday, July 1, 2017

El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: Introduction and Smeltertown

The Tumblewords Project didn't hit my radar until June. A pity.  Because with my very first mid-day Saturday attendance at the weekly writing group, I lamented silently, "Why didn't I discover this before?!"

It only got my attention the first time because of the magic words Smeltertown. Where did I even see the phrase in connection with Tumblewords? The library? Social media? An upcoming-events email? No idea.

I first learned about Smeltertown when I took the guided hike up Mt Cristo Rey. Then I saw an announcement about a photographer with an exhibit of her photos at Smeltertown, but because of a scheduling conflict, I couldn't go. So when I saw the third reference to Smeltertown, I had to check it out.

This article isn't about Smeltertown; it's about the Tumblewords Project. But the leader for this particular Saturday's meeting - Carolyn Rhea Drapes - took us, in our imagination, to the Smeltertown of her youth. Like: 
  • "La Smelta."
  • "Every morning abuela would hang her canary cages on the branches of the cottonwood tree." 
  • Tiny houses as big as an efficiency apartment. 
  • Some people had electric, water and gas. 
  • For a long time, had communal toilets. 
  • "Everything felt caked in sulfur." 
  •  "Those yellow smells had no chance of entering [abuela's] kitchen."


Tumblewords describes its process thus:
The format involves preliminary announcements, the presenter speaking for maybe ten minutes, writing on the spot, and then going around the room and each participant reading aloud. We like to have three rounds of writing and reading aloud, but depending on the number of participants who show up any one workshop, there may only be time for two rounds or even one. Presenters are given free range to present however or whatever they want, as long as the primary amount of time is allocated to writing and reading aloud. Some presenters read the works of writers they revere, show slides of their art work or the art of others, bring in visual art, play or perform music, or read their own work. The participants are free to write in whatever form or on whatever topic they choose, notwithstanding the topic of presentation.

Some rules:
  • You write and you share what you write. 
  • No whining about the quality of your work; at most you can say: "This is shit." But then you gotta read it aloud anyway. 
  • No critiques.

The goal is to write. Simple as that. 

Donna Snyder is the founder and matriarch of the group - it's a remarkable feat to have nurtured a writing group since its birth in 1995. A succinct synopsis about Donna: " ... a lawyer by profession, an activist by inclination and a poet by compulsion, has an extensive list of published work to her credit ... "

I always feel welcomed and supported at the workshops.

And holy moly, there is huge talent in that library room every Saturday!


Getting back to this day's work, as led by Carolyn Rhea Drapes: 

From Carolyn's sharing about Smeltertown, the canaries in the cottonwood tree pricked my senses.

In two writing sprints, I created the following (since edited): 

First sprint:

In the time of the killing in the lushness, the richness of Rwanda, did the birds continue to sing? 

Is it true that the foreign tamarisks crowd and kill the native cottonwoods, usurping their space and water like they say they do? 

Of what use is this man-made border over which the giant Christ looks with his arms outstretched, which separates sisters, but which birds and tamarisks and cottonwoods flaunt with impunity?
Mt. Cristo Rey, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

Of what use is this wall that hems El Paso, choked like the Rio Grande, cobbled and parched? 

Does the big Christ not shake his head in bemusement when he looks at the rusty wall that separates the sisters he made? 

US border between El Paso and Juarez. November 2016.

Some of abuela's canaries died and they were not replaced. 


Portal, Arizona. March 2013.

Second sprint: 

Outside the red library in Portal, New Mexico, bird feeders hang from leafy cottonwoods. Books in a cart enjoy the air outside. It is fine to sit in the shade of the cottonwoods and listen to the birds sing.

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