“Shhhh” is not a sound you’ll hear at the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde. Since the tragic massacre at Robb Elementary School on May 24, the public library has been filled with the excited voices of children playing in the children’s book area, the yelps and yelps of rescue dogs during a recent event and fans of the superhero theme. bounce houses on the 30-foot rotunda during a mid-June festival.
On Saturday, the sounds of San Antonio musician Rudi Harst singing and playing guitar could be heard as husband Zet Baer and her colleague Joan Frederick, both visual artists, gently guided the youngsters through applying watercolors and layers of tape. colorful glue on blank sheets of paper, creating playful collages.
Harst wandered among the tables and improvised texts on what he observed. “There sits Seth with a big brush! One day in the library, no one says ‘shut up’.
In another part of the sprawling building, poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Jenny Browne led an open poetry workshop, asking children to bring thoughts to mind and then form them into words on index cards.
After being instructed by Browne that “gentleness,” “teachers,” and “memory” are all good words for poems, 11-year-old Sarai read her poem aloud: “Llamas remind me of my third teacher, but dogs they remind me of my four, so when I think about animals it makes me happy.”
As the Poetry Foundation’s Young Poet Laureate and a friend of a Uvalde resident who lost his granddaughter Layla Salazar in the shooting, Nye felt compelled to contribute to the traumatized community in any way he could to help.
She heard from a friend that San Antonio scholar Ricardo Romo had made a connection with El Progreso director Mendell Morgan, who sees the library as a community resource and gathering place for anyone in need of focused distraction and positive energy.
“I see the role of the library as a civic and cultural center, a center for the community,” Morgan said.
At first, Morgan thought he should close the library out of respect for the families who suffered, “but then I thought, no, that’s not going to help them. … The best way to help them would be to try to have the library as a safe haven, a refuge, a respite, a place to get away because many of us find a wonderful escape through reading. It’s a way to grow, to get information to get outside of ourselves and outside of our circumstances.”
Prompted by Romo’s suggestion, Nye gathered a group of artist friends to hold a creative and visual healing arts workshop, free and open to all. In the early hours of Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen children of various ages were gathered around tables filled with craft materials, including markers, feathers, colored pencils, scissors and books and magazines for collage scraps.
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos is one of 19 slain Robb Elementary students whose names adorn the “tunnel of love” in the library’s entry hall, a makeshift memorial and repository for the gifts and cards sent to Uvalde from across the U.S. The 8-year-old friend of Luevano. Pedro watched as his siblings and other children worked hard, collaged and painted. Noah, 11 and about to enter sixth grade, made a miniature hat out of a peace sign, adorned with orange ribbon and painted bird feathers.
Earlier, 7-year-old Brandon, who was assigned to second grade at Robb Elementary before the decision to close the school, drew a colorful bird that he said wanted to eat a dinosaur.
When his grandmother Dianna Diaz brought Brandon to Nye and Browne’s Poetry Room, the bird’s hunger softened to an appetite for the more traditional meal of bird worms.
Browne and Nye said the purpose of the workshop is not to have expectations of specific outcomes, but only to create the conditions where creativity can help a person process their thoughts and feelings. One purpose of poetry, Browne said, is “to find a silence where you can hear yourself think.”
Nye said they also had no expectations of how many community members might show up for the workshop, or what they might get out of attending. “Maybe good things will happen for us tomorrow because of today,” she said.
Sitting with Mendell over a veggie-topped pizza as the poetry portion of the workshop wound down, Browne suggested it might be interesting to continue the poetry and healing workshops after the intensity of the past few months subsides. Nye agreed wholeheartedly. “We can go back!” she said.
“Please,” Morgan said, without hesitation.