A few years ago, I came upon This Body is to Ask in a used book store and bought it. It is terrifically inspiring, leading me to recently reread it. The book was compiled by Marsha Connell and Maureen Hurley, who were Artists in Residence in schools in Sonoma County, California. This book, from 1993, contains the poems and visual arts of the students they worked with. The students ranged from kindergarten to, I believe, 8th grade. Their work is astonishing in its beauty and depth of thought and feeling.
The poems appear in English with some Spanish and Russian translations. The work that the artists in residence did with the children became known and valued in Russia which lead to the addition of Russian translations.
The book also contains articles by teachers and the artists in residence about the life-giving aspect of bringing arts into children’s lives. Anyone who wonders what the young are capable of or whether the arts are of value in school should get this book, which is still available online.
I searched for mentions of the book online and found a blog by the poet Maureen Hurley. Her blog is licensed under The Creative Commons, so I’m able to include here a poem by a second grader from which the book title was taken.
This Body is to Ask:
This body is to ask
this question of the mind:
Is the sun to shine on the day of my death?
Is the hole in the universe to stay as big?
Tell me, tell me, where is the answer?
Where is the answer to lie in today’s hands?
This is the breath, to breathe this air.
—Trevor Yeats, 2nd Grade, Higham Family School, Santa Rosa
Maureen later writes:
“At the end of his poem, I told Trevor that there was a famous Irish poet, William Butler Yeats—who was his namesake. And that Trevor’s poem reminded me of Yeats’ poems. That’s when Trevor told me that he was the great-grand-nephew of W.B. Yeats! I was flabbergasted. For a moment the ancestors breathed through Trevor and I was lucky enough to catch it combusting on paper.”