Stories of Arrival:
Refugee and Immigrant Youth Voices

Facilitated by Merna Ann Hecht

Tukwila, WA

Foster High School & Community Partnerships with the Jack Straw Cultural Center, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Youth Food Justice Program, and the Food Innovation Network, Tukwila, WA. Former partnerships include Project Feast and the IRC Namaste Garden and New Roots Program.

The Stories of Arrival Poetry Project has been connected to IPM for the past 12 years during which IPM has funded eight major poetry projects with refugee and immigrant youth led by poet Merna Ann Hecht. Foster High School is one of the most language- and ethnically-diverse schools in the U.S. The project takes place during the school day in ELL teacher and co-director Carrie Stradley’s classroom. Merna’s unique approach to bringing poetry to each young person helps them find their voices and tell their stories of trauma, displacement, loss, resilience and hope through the process of poem-making. She not only devotes her time to the students in the project, she also reaches out to create lasting partnerships with organizations that work with immigrants and refugees, especially as related to access to healthy food, communities of welcome, belonging and sustainability.

Many of the young people in this poetry project have experienced the trauma of forced migration and life in refugee camps. All have endured the losses that encompass leaving a homeland often because of war, but also due to poverty, climate disruption, food and water scarcity, and lack of basic health care and education. Enriched by community partnerships and guest artists and poets, the project has grown in its mission to widen compassionate understandings of the refugee and immigrant experience. For most of the students, the project is a first experience with writing poems. The poignant and powerful stories that come forth through poetry are a testament to the power of poetic expression and to the indelible imprint of memories of family, culture and homelands.

For 2019-20 Merna and Carrie created a new venture which resulted in a stunning collection of broadsides including self-portraits and visual poems that show the deep humanity of each young person in the project. A rotating exhibition of this work, which was on view in 2021, connected to a new community partnership with the Tukwila Food Innovation Network Spice Bridge Global Food Hall where refugee women chefs prepare and sell the food of their homelands.

Merna has edited a beautiful book of these broadsides titled We Are the Future: Poems with A Voice for Peace. John Fox, along with the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, and other poets, educators and peace activists have written testimonials for the back cover. The book’s foreword is from Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, the first immigrant and woman of color to hold that title. Limited editions with proceeds going directly to the project are available by contacting Merna.

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Word Travels: Bringing Refugee & Immigrant Poetry to the Community

by Merna Ann Hecht

Word Travels is an extension of the partnership that was established for our 2017-18 Stories of Arrival Poetry Project with the IRC’s New Roots Program and Youth Food Justice Program. The mission of the program states: New Roots is about healthy families, secure communities and a more sustainable future. It is about dignity, determination and the boundless possibility of human connection. And it’s about the power of people to heal and nurture positive change from the ground up.

For the 2017-18 poetry project our young participants created poems under the broad theme of “Caring for the Earth and Each Other.” We brought a number of refugee and immigrant community members into the classroom to offer their poetry and their life and work experience related to environmental protections, rebuilding communities and direct work in sustainability. We looked closely at the connections of the climate crises to the hugely troubling rise in forced migration and immigration. Poems about our need for mindful and sustainable care for the earth and each other resulted in the 2018 poetry anthology titled Holding the Earth Together: Youth Voices Speak for Our World.

Through partnering with the IRC New Roots program our students were able to work in the Namaste refugee garden adjacent to the school. This powerful collaboration led me to expand my work to settings with elder refugees and intergenerational groups which has led to further collaboration with the IRC New Roots Program and a pilot poetry and visual arts project with elder refugee gardeners. Since I was traveling further afoot with poetry, I named these expanded projects Word Travels. Literally, in the fall of 2018, I traveled with words! I volunteered in two major hubs of migration—Berlin and Athens—where I worked as a poet with asylum seekers and refugees, all women and children. One of the most moving parts of this work was bringing the poetry that the Stories of Arrival poets created to groups of refugee women in Athens who were from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and Burma and witnessing the power of words traveling! Most of the poems I presented and all of the prompts were from the Stories of Arrival youth poets. Their words touched the hearts of these women and gave them the courage and inspiration to write their own poems speaking to profound loss and to profound courage.

IPM is pleased to be funding and supporting this wonderful poetry partner program.
If you'd like to support this effort, please consider donating!
Enjoy the food-themed poetry and recipes in "Our Table of Memories"—part of a collaboration
between Project Feast and Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices Poetry Project. 
Edited and directed by Merna Ann Hecht.
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The anthology "Holding the Earth" offers the fruit of dozens of students' efforts as English Language Learners
to put their wrenching experiences of migration into words, using the power of poetry and the tools of art.
Edited and directed by Merna Ann Hecht.
Merna Hecht

Merna Ann Hecht

Merna has taught creative writing, social justice and humanities courses at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and both Language & Literacy and Imagination in the Classroom for the Seattle branch of the Pacific Oaks College Teacher Certification Program. She is a nationally known storyteller; through a National Storytelling Network grant she piloted a poetry/storytelling project at BRIDGES: A Center for Grieving Children in Tacoma. Other venues as a teaching poet include the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center School, homeless shelters for teens and youth detention centers. Merna began her career as a pediatric nurse and was in the first group of nurses to work with Elizabeth Kubler Ross which set her on a lifelong path of helping others voice their sorrow and discover their sources of strength and reconnection.

A longtime resident of Vashon Island, WA, where she was the 2017-19 Poet Laureate, Merna is also a blueberry farmer and a passionate cook. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Washington with additional training in Theater in Education and Expressive Arts.

If you'd like to collaborate on bringing poetry and mindfulness into your community,
please reach out to Merna. 
IPM logo
Poetry of Nature Letters
Facilitated by NanLeah, Geoff Oelsner Monthly Letters delivered through November
This Poetic Medicine journey of monthly letters (with access to past issues) is for all kinds of Nature Lovers: for those wishing to create or deepen their Nature practice and poetry writing; for those that are concerned about Earth’s chang- ing climate, and their place in it; for those who have the felt sense that things can be different; and for those who are ready to turn their hearts and minds to a new story.
Through stories, poems, writing prompts, and reflections on the theme of choice, we’ll weave a tangible, living record of our journey together.
YPM-PON
Morning Branches
by Geoff Oelsner
If there’s an award for Most Eclectic Local Album of the Year and Possibly Even the Decade, it will surely go to Geoff Oelsner for his new release, “Morning Branches.”
There is the unadorned informality of Geoff Oelsner, LCSW’s Dream and the theatrical pandemonium of Mad Tom’s Song. And there are some genuine folk songs delivered in Geoff ’s engaging resonant baritone and liberally sprinkled with tasty acoustic instruments and harmony. Two of these songs, My Shady and Borderguards, I would put right up there with the best of Joan Baez or Peter, Paul & Mary.
More than those of most singer-songwriters, Geoff Oelsner’s lyrics read as poetry on the printed page…Oelsner, who once told me that he considers himself “a happy hand-puppet of the artistic process,” often gets song ideas, and even entire songs, from his dreams… Geoff Oelsner is especially attuned to this phenomenon and tries to honor it and be faithful to it when it occurs.
Emily Kaitz, Fayetteville Free Weekly
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Ordinary Mystery
by Geoff Oelsner
Geoff Oelsner doesn’t spend too much time thinking about writing songs. Inspiration, he says, just hits him. He calls them “givens,” and he knows that a gift like that is to be used.
On the recording (Ordinary Mystery), he was backed by Kelly Mulhollan, Robin Rues, Andrew Sieff, and also his family, including his wife and two grown children who now make their careers as musicians.
Oelsner chatted with the us recently about the gifts of songs, the importance of recording with his family and his love of Native American cultures. Four songs on the album are dedicated to the country’s different native peoples, and proceeds from the recording will be donated to Native American charities.
Kevin Kinder, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Finding What You Didn’t Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity through Poem-Making
by John Fox
Transcending the traditional academic approach to poetry writing, Finding What You Didn’t Lose deals with craft but, more importantly, guides readers to explore their deepest feelings and express their own unique insights through the incomparable language of poetry.
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Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making
by John Fox
Poetic Medicine is designed for readers wanting to tap their creative energy in order to make a difference in the world, including educators, therapists, parents and their children, writers, couples, and the infirm. As John Fox demonstrates, we all possess the ability to write. This gift enables us to access unlimited spiritual resources that restore our genuine voices and meaning in our lives, while healing and creatively satisfying us.
We Are the Future: Poems with a Voice for Peace
Edited by Merna Ann Hecht
This unique anthology brings readers into the personal, lived experiences of young people whose lives are challenged by leaving a homeland behind and negotiating relocation. At a time of uncertainty with a global pandemic and the very real threat to our planet from climate change, We Are the Future reminds us to stand strong with refugee and immigrant youth in their hopes, dreams and determination for a more humane, just, and peaceful world.
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Geography of Loss
by Judith Prest
Geography of Loss explores grief and loss, whether through death or other experiences. It is a collection of poems detailing family history, lessons from loss and the resilience that come from surviving loss.
Write a Poem, Save Your Life
by Meredith Heller
With writing prompts, tools, encouragement, and moving student examples, Meredith Heller gently guides us in the art of using poetry to figure out who we are and what matters to us and to heal the deeper issues many of us face, such as depression, addiction, health and body image issues, low self-esteem, trauma, gender and sexual identity issues, and home and family problems. Along the way, we learn that writing poems helps us believe in ourselves, make positive life choices, and find direction, purpose, and meaning.
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