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Care Center students showcase poetic talents

Eighteen-year old Wanda Cappas, a student at The Care Center, reads a poem to a crowd that gathered at the Odyseey Bookshop last Wednesday for a reading and booksigning of The Care Center's recently published collection of poetry, Nautilus II.
By Paula Canning

Staff Writer

HOLYOKE Children. Positive self-image. Family. Struggle. Hope for the Future.

These are just a sample of the many themes that appeared throughout Nautilus II, a collection of poetry written by teen mothers who are studying for the General Educational Development(GED) test at The Care Center, an alternative education center located on Cabot Street.

The students many of whom also helped to edit and design the 82-page book were able to put a voice behind their work last Wednesday during a reading and book-signing at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

In its third year as an annual publication, the release of Nautilus II marks the culmination of the Care Center's year-long poetry program that began with the study of both classic and contemporary poets such as Maya Angelou, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Emily Dickinson, according to Tzvia Gover, who teaches poetry at the Care Center.

Categorized under such chapter titles as "Phenomenal Women," "I am" and "My Motherhood," Gover explained that many of the poems in the book were inspired by assignments that the students were given in class.

One chapter, for example, titled, "Inside This Pencil," features poems that were written in response to an assignment in which students were asked to imagine all of the thoughts and feelings hidden inside of their pencil.

She explained that in many instances, students read a poet or group of poets and then were asked to respond to what was read.

Gover said that having the opportunity to read their work to an audience last Wednesday was "a great experience for them."

Not only did the reading afford the students the opportunity to showcase their work, she said it also gave the girls public speaking experience.

"For many of them, this was their first time speaking to a crowd, and also the first time seeing their work in print," she said. "They were very proud."

The students who served on the editorial board for the publication of Nautilus II learned valuable leadership and decision-making skills, according to Gover.

She explained that the designer of the book met with the students and solicited their feedback on aspects such as the front cover design.

"They really got to be in on all aspects of the process, and were able to say what they liked and what they didn't like," she said.

Gover, who continuously has her work featured in renowned magazines and journals across the country, said that while trying to make her passion for poetry contagious, she tries to expose the students to a wide range of poetic influences.

"Everyone is going to like different things, but that's exactly how poetry should be," she said, adding that it is so difficult to anticipate what someone is going to like.

"Proud" and "impressed" by the students' work, Gover said she was especially struck by the love for their children that the students expressed in their poems.

"It was amazing to see how proud these [students] are of their children, and of themselves as mothers," she said, adding that it was encouraging to see that positive self-image was expressed in the majority of the poems.

Gover also said she was impressed by the poetry of Care Center students who are not yet fluent in English many of whom arrived in the English speaking world only months ago.

She said that many of the students combined both the English and the Spanish language in their poetry.

"It really was amazing to see what these students came up with," Gover said.

She said that she was also impressed by a student who is a native Spanish speaker in the process of learning English but prefers to write her poems in English.

"It's so fascinating to see how the [English] language just speaks to her," Gover said. "It just seems to work better for her own self expression."

For those attempting to better their English speaking skills, Gover said that poetry can serve as a great way to become comfortable with the language.

"Poetry is the one way that you can really play with the English language," Gover said. "You can use repetition, you don't have to worry so much about the exact way things should be it's a great way to really enjoy the language."

Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center, said that the poetry collection and reading was a "wonderful experience" for everyone involved.

"There is something very powerful about having an idea and a concept and over the course of many months sticking with it and seeing it through and have the opportunity to share it publicly," she said.

She added, " I think they were very risky and brave to get up in front of a crowd and read heartfelt poetry. I think that it was a very powerful experience for them."

According to Teschner, incorporating the humanities into the curriculum is one of the main goals of The Care Center.

"I think anytime you add arts and humanities deliberately into the curriculum, it creates a more lively educational experience and gives [the students] more opportunities to be successful," she said.

And for Erica Villegas, a Care Center student who served on the Nautilus II editorial board and read her work at the poetry reading on Wednesday, the emphasis on the artistic expression has helped to hone her interests in writing, photography and music.

"It's great how they encourage you to do all those kinds of things," Villegas said.

Villegas, the mother of a one-year-old, said that she really enjoyed writing poems and reading her work to an audience, especially because, "it was something that I never had the chance to do in public school."

Joining the editorial team for the second time this year, Villegas said that "being able to have a say in how the book was going to look" was a great experience.

Villegas also that choosing the poems gave her the opportunity to read all of her classmates work an experience that proved eye-opening.

She said it was "overwhelming" to read some of her classmates' work and read their expressions of pain and loss.

Villegas also said that reading these poems reinforced how much the students have in common.

"You think you're the only one going through these things and then you read [the other poems] and you realize you're not," she said.

Villegas, who had never written poetry before attending the Care Center, said that turning her thoughts into poetry is "relieving."

"I get to write down the kinds of things I can't tell anyone else," she said.

Although it was not her first time reading her work aloud, Villegas said that reading at the Odyssey Bookshop on Wednesday was a challenge.

"It's hard because you feel like you want to cry as you're standing up there letting everyone know your thoughts and emotions," Villegas said.

She said that while being exposed to a variety of poets during her study of poetry, she was most attracted to the work of a fellow classmate Glorymar Vallellanes, who also served the Student Editorial Board of Nautilus II.

"The way she puts her words together is so beautiful," Villegas said. "I never even thought that people could say things that way she says them."

Vallellanes, a 22-year old who arrived in Holyoke two years ago, described reading her work at the Odyssey Book shop as an emotional experience.

"As I read [the poems] I remembered the emotions I had had [when I wrote it]," she said.

Vallellanes, described by Gover as a "very sensitive person," said that hearing the poetry of her classmates showed her how much the students have in common. "Everyone feels the same way about so many things," she said.

Joan Grenier, co-owner of the Odyssey Bookshop who volunteers at the Care Center once a week, said that she decided to invite The Care Center to have the poetry reading at the bookshop because "she really respects the work that the Care Center does."

This is the00 second year that Grenier has hosted the reading and book-signing at the store, and she said that just like last year, the event "went really well."

"I thought it was wonderful," she said. "I thought it was really important for the students at The Care Center to have the opportunity to do this."

She added that the students wrote some "wonderful poetry" and really seemed to enjoy themselves.

With readings and book-signings serving as the staple event at the Odyssey Bookshop, Grenier said that she enjoys "bringing writers and readers together.

"It's wonderful to read a book or poem on your own, but it's even more special when you hear the writer read their work or talk about how they created it," she said.

The Care Center, which serves more than 140 pregnant and parenting teens in the area, offers academic classes in preparation for the GED, on-site day care, counseling, nutritious food, door-to-door transportation and help making the transition to employment or higher education. The organization has received national recognition as a model for youth empowerment, the strengthening of young families, and teen pregnancy prevention.

For more information about The Care Center, call (413) 532-2900.