Poets Pair with Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative to Bring Writing Workshop to Wellesley

Two performers stand on stage in front of a multimedia presentation.
Photo provided by Abigail Chen ’22
April 9, 2019

Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman, who together make up the award-winning poetry duo Climbing PoeTree, stopped by Wellesley last week to facilitate a creative writing workshop and perform for students. The event—presented by the Sustainability Committee, Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, and the student group EnAct—brought Climbing PoeTree to campus, where they discussed how to fuse creativity and activism through poetry and music.

Climbing PoeTree incorporates spoken word, hip-hop infused world music, multimedia theater, and popular education models in their performances. They have performed alongside artists such as Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Madonna. They recently completed an 11,000-mile tour across the United States on a bus converted to run on recycled vegetable oil.

Linda Liu ’19, a student who took part in their campus workshop, shares her perspective on working with Climbing PoeTree and what she learned from the group’s visit.


Q: What drew you initially to participate in Climbing PoeTree’s workshop? How much did you know about them beforehand?

Liu: I enjoy writing poems, and I’ve written and performed a couple of spoken word pieces with a good friend at Wellesley. I watched some recordings of Climbing PoeTree's spoken word performances on YouTube, and was drawn to their workshop because they are such big-hearted and accomplished poets and seasoned performers.

A student works on a poem at a table. Q: Can you describe your experience at this workshop? What, specifically, did you feel you got out of it? What did you learn about poetry and performance?

Liu: The workshop was fun and inspiring. Alixa and Naima started by performing one of their spoken word pieces for us. With music, we then walked around the room in silence and spent some time reading the “S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D.” flags. We were asked to each choose one that resonated the most with us and read it out loud. We also shared with one another stories under prompts such as, “When was a time when you didn’t know you could forgive, but you eventually did?” At the end, we did a prompted free-write, and each contributing a line or two, we put together a group poem. It was wonderful seeing the group poem come together, and it made me think about how artistic creation doesn’t have to be a solitary experience, in which the artist painstakingly delves into her own world; instead it can be done within a supportive and collaborative community, which could totally change the experience and produce surprising results.

Q: How did Climbing PoeTree’s “S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D.” exercise help with your concept of poetry and narrative? What did it add to the experience of the workshop? How will this inform your writing in the future?

Liu: The stories and confessions I read as part of the S.T.I.T.C.H.E.D exercise resonated with me, because they were honest and personal. I was able to read words from people who are outside of my life, whom I might never meet in real life, and it was powerful. I felt inspired by Climbing PoeTree because they demanded change, and transformed anger into art and action. I aspire to broaden the themes of my art and write in a more accessible way.

Climbing PoeTree’s visit is one of several events taking place on campus throughout the month of April in celebration of National Poetry Month, an initiative that encourages all members of the community to celebrate the power of poetry to bring people together. The English department is hosting two poetry readings on April 18 and April 25, and the Paulson Initiative will also host Community Day of Poetry on Friday, April 26.

Photo: Garcia and Penniman perform at Wellesley on April 2.

Photo (inset): Linda Liu ’19 (center) works on her poem at the workshop held by Garcia and Penniman before the performance/Michelle Shen ’22