From Vietnam to the Valley

Speak Peace,” a touring exhibit currently being presented by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, was created in partnership with Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center and School of Art Galleries with Soldier’s Heart, War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Young Writers Program at Arizona State University.

Though the “Speak Peace” exhibit opened only recently in the young@art Gallery housed inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, folks from ASU’s Young Writers Program say they’re proud to have been involved for some time.

Sean Nevin, director of the ASU Young Writers Program, recalls meeting the director of a Kent State writing program at a conference about two years ago when both sat on a panel about teaching writing to kids. Nevin returned to Tempe and got to work writing a curriculum focused on teaching students in grades 9-12 how to write in response to experiencing art.

Several MFA in writing students and alumni worked with Nevin on taking the curriculum to Valley high schools as part of something called “Poetry Central.” Nevin is thrilled that “Speak Peace” includes “poetry written by Valley teenagers who participated in Young Writers Program workshops.”

He notes that participating students came from Carson Jr., Alhambra, Bostrom, Camelback, Carl Hayden, Central, Cesar Chavez, Maryvale, Metro Tech, North, South Mountain, and Combs high schools.

Jess Burnquist, ASU MFA graduate and YWP teaching assistant, leading a Speak Peace session with TUHSD students during Poetry Central 2010 (Photo courtesy of ASU YWP)

“Speak Peace” continues to use the curriculum on their website, and you can click here to explore it for yourself.

Nevin notes that those who visit the “Speak Peace” exhibit presented by SMoCA can enjoy several of the written pieces created as part of the ASU/Valley schools collaboration. 

A work created by Valley students working with the YWP is featured below:  

Who Knows

Who knows if peace will come or not?

People are afraid of touching peace,

Hands folding so if won’t fly away.

All that we know is all that we give.


We work together to reach the swan.

Peace tastes like the victuals of Eden.

Peace is the color of fire

And the burning motion of time.

With fingertips like irons,

Peace brands the unborn.

 –Collaborative poem by students from the Phoenix Union High School District (written at a YWP “Poetry Central” workshop)

Renee Simms, ASU MFA graduate and YWP teaching artist, leading a writing exercise with students from the Tolleson Union High School District during Poetry Central 2010 (Photo courtesy of ASU YWP)

“Art works to unite kids across the country and the world,” shares Nevin, who describes the response of youth to art as “a pure one.” Art, says Nevin, allows youth to “share a common language.”

Nevin recalls that the ASU/”Speak Peace” collaboration started near the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, and that many of the students who wrote in response to the artwork created by Vietnamese youth had a parent or sibling deployed in a current conflict.

“It’s sad,” reflects Nevin, “that so little has changed.”

— Lynn

Note: Poet Bruce Weigl, who was awarded a Bronze Star for his service during the Vietnam War, will read his work and sign books at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art at 7:45pm on Thurs, Oct. 13. SMoCA will present a guided tour of the “Speak Peace” exhibit at 7pm.

Coming up: A tale of family and forgiveness, Dance meets the diary of Anne Frank


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