• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Poet laureate Lyon inspires teens to share their stories

Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon spoke about the value of sharing personal thoughts and feelings in words during a writing workshop at The Woodford Theatre on July 7. Lyon and other guest artists, including Travis Lope, a visual artist specializing in puppetry and mask-making, will spend a couple of weeks inspiring 12 teenage participants of The Girl Project 2016 as they begin a journey of self-discovery. "We try to give them a safe space to talk about things that teenage girls go through," said Woodford Theatre education director Vanessa Becker Weig, "and then we bring in guest artists," who help Girl Project participants shape their stories into an onstage performance at the end of an experience that began last week. During her writing workshop last Thursday afternoon, Lyon described her journal as "the seed book for the rest of my writing." It's where she listens to herself. It's where she writes down her dreams. And because of her travels across Kentucky as poet laureate and her many jobs as a freelance writer, Lyon said, "My journal knows who I am if not where I am." Her journal entries are often not written in straight lines - from left to right - because "there's got to be more to it than this." Besides, writing in different directions reduces the chances of someone else reading a journal entry because "they don't have the time and they're not that curious," she said. Lyon started writing poems in third grade, and has filled 125 journals with her words and personal observations, but said she didn't realize she wanted to spend her life writing until after college. When she finished reading a couple of poems during her Girl Project writing workshop, Lyon challenged the teenage girls - sitting with her in a circle - to write about an event in their life that they'd wish had gone differently. When they were finished writing, she asked them to re-write their stories. ".Add someone who was not there," she told them. "This someone can be an actual person - living or dead . It could be a fictional person. It could be an imaginary person . It can be anybody." She then urged them, "don't think it through" and figure out what's going to happen before it actually happens on the page. "The thing about writing is you're paying such intense attention to what you're doing, but you're also letting go," said Lyon. ".How does (your story) change when this other person shows up . Let's see what happens." By sharing their stories with spoken words, dance and other performance art, The Girl Project seeks to empower young ladies to challenge misrepresentations of girls and women in American media culture. "Since it was only the second day of the (Girl) Project," wrote Lyon in an email, "I wasn't sure how deep they would go or how many of them would be willing to share what they wrote (during my writing workshop). I was moved by what they read, by their vulnerability and their strength." She described her workshop as an opportunity to give the teens "an encounter with their own voices, validation of the importance of their stories, and an experience of writing as a way to connect with their inner lives." "Your own written words," said Lyon in her email, "can call out your deepest self, and in so doing, help you know who you are and what you bring to the world. Having others hear your words and support you helps you 'stand in you own story' and choose our own path." Following two weeks of rehearsals, a staged reading by Girl Project participants will take place on Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 p.m. at The Woodford Theatre, with additional performances on Aug. 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Transylvania University in Lexington. "We have some comedy in (these performances) too," said Becker Weig. "So we poke fun at some of the expectations that our society puts on girls." Last week's writing workshop with Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon demonstrates the high-caliber and amazing guest artists who have participated in The Girl Project since she and Ellie Clark co-founded this "arts-meets-activism" program four years ago, Becker Weig said.

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