Interview with 19-year-old youth poet Zaya Heffenger: “It’s definitely one of the deeper connections I’ve ever had”…
Poems, interviews, artwork and testimonials by youth participants, with some poems and testimonials written by adult participants.
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ART FROM ASHES HAS A NO-CENSORSHIP POLICY TO ALLOW YOUTH COMPLETE CREATIVE FREEDOM!
Set a timer for three minutes and write without thinking or editing until the time is up! Here’s a prompt to help you get started…
by Anna Ingraham
Anna: How did you first get involved with AfA?
Desmond: Well, that’s a funny, mysterious story. My friend and I were riding the H-train to 16th street downtown, when we noticed an RTD guy walking up the isle scanning train passes. We didn’t pay for passes! So we hurried and exited at the next stop, which happened to be 10th and Osage. I walked around for a little and was drawn in by the Art from Ashes poster. Then, I found out about the weekly art workshops, and have been popping up there ever since. I like to think the universe guided me there that day.
Anna: So it sounds like you’ve mostly been to the drop-in workshops. What has been your experience with those?
Desmond: Well, it’s really nice having a community of people to come spend time with. All of my family is back in Texas, so having a group of people to create with really helps me to not feel lonely. I love all of the different things we create! I have magnets and banners and paintings throughout my house now that all remind me of AfA. I try to go to both (the poetry and art workshops) as often as possible.
Anna: I’m glad it’s been such a good experience for you! Were you an artist and writer before AfA?
Desmond: I was an artist and writer before AfA. I was writing stories in English class and looking up words in the thesaurus to find words that better fit the picture I was trying to paint. This translated into my music skills later. Around my freshman year, a friend asked me to freestyle with him, and I found I was actually pretty good! So I went from story writing to eventually poetry and rapping and singing over beats I found on Soundcloud and Youtube. Being in choir and percussion taught me rhythm and helped me to find my distinct sound.
Anna: How has being a guest poet for AfA been for you?
Desmond: I really like the experience of being impactful to high school kids, because I remember when I was in high school, and I just know how influential a message can be. It’s very rare that people can be influential these days, and I know that I can be a positive impact. I want youth to know that they don’t have to give in to the social norm. It’s okay to love yourself! You can just be yourself, and everything’s going to be okay. You don’t have to fit in just to get more followers. When you don’t have a lot of followers because you’re being yourself, those who are following you are doing so because they genuinely like you and care about your work.
Anna: That is such an important message! Do you think that you’re going to continue being a guest poet?
Desmond: I definitely think that I will as long as I’m in Colorado. I really like the AfA community, and anything that I can do to be a part of it, I’m more than willing.
Anna: Do you feel like creating art, writing, and music has helped you embrace yourself more fully?
Desmond: I feel like creation is a way for us to see what our minds look like, and to hear what our thoughts sound like. You don’t have to try, everyone just exists in a different way. Creating is a very good way to find yourself as an individual.
Anna: What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Desmond: Eventually, I want to go to school to become a counselor of some sort. I think that I’m very good at talking to people and observing their problems objectively. I feel like I would be good at helpingkids to see what’s causing their problems. A lot of methods these days, instead of finding the root of the problem, kind of just suppress it. I want them to be aware that everything they experience has a reason behind it.
Anna: It sounds like you’re really passionate about this work. Do you think that the arts will continue to be a part of your life as you move towards a counseling career?
Desmond: I feel as if when I do help people with counseling, I’ll probably sing to them and help them to bring out their inner voice. I believe that everyone can sing, you just have to find out where your range is. I’ll help people to draw, because it’s not about if it looks cool, it’s about learning about yourself. I think I’ll be that kind of counselor and I really feel like I’ll effect peoples daily lives.
Anna: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! We are lucky to have you involved with us at AfA!
Recently I bought a synthesizer(basically a piano) and a looper pedal, and I’ve been practicing adding layers on eachother. Eventually I want to get to a point where I perform live with it. I hope you enjoy this recording I did on my phone of a song I’m in the works of orchestrating. Never forget to shine your light☀️
🕯 sʜɪɴᴇ ʏᴏᴜʀ ʟɪɢʜᴛ 🕯
Poem written by Desmond in three minutes:
A SPIRIT OF ONE
In this time day and age of a government suppression
many minds are confused, many people conjure questions
and though they tell you the answer’s simple, small, flat, and green
i’m here to share with you it’s not as simple as it seems
shoving products in your face to keep you always wanting more
keep you always wanting money, keep you knocking at their door
no it’s not a fucking want, its a motherfuckin’ NEED
their method of control is individuality and greed
and you think im fuckin’ crazy, don’t think i know just how i sound?
but if you look a little closer, then these words will be profound
there’s no need for feeling empty and no need for feeling down
everything possesses beauty if you take a look around
for the primary function of the universe is love
from the atoms made within us to the galaxies above
all the legs, fins, wings, plants, underneath the sun
all are infinite in unity, all a spirit of one
The thing I don’t know
Is one thing
A What-the-Workshop-Was-Like-for-Me Collage
Every meeting was a gift –
presents of words and gifts of presence.
A multiplicity of selves, each with her voice.
The beauty of listening.
My heart wants to know if we are on speaking terms.
I say to my heart: we are birds of a feather. We depend on each other.
I taught my heart how to lay down a stone.
The Art and Power of Story Making:
It’s time you spoke….
Lost in the art of words, I am found.
I am now free to look within for answers.
I compose myself.
(Homewords lead me homeward.)
Three Minute Gifts
The minutes pass without my counting them.
I am, I am, I am….
I am one who studies shadows, wondering.
I am free to hear god humming in the leaves,
to laugh and laugh.
Minor (life-saving) surgery: Left-brain Bypass
What is near can be seen anew.
What is far can be called upon.
Burdens into offerings. Curses into blessings.
Fears into kindnesses.
Here is this day. Here is this gift.
Here is my gratitude.
I am the first-born child in my family
Meaning, my parents planned to have me
But were worried when I was born
Because an instruction manual
Didn’t follow after me from the womb…
They were forced to learn to love me
Like they were supposed to…
Meaning, they were as lost as I was
Without a mouth to talk and two legs to walk
I’m not saying that I didn’t have a good childhood
Up until when I started to cocoon into myself
To birth who I felt I wanted to be
It was smooth sailing
It was only after I took an Etch-a-Sketch to their final project
That was deemed as a job well done
See, I learned from kid Icarus
Not to fly too close to the sun
So I stopped going to church every Sunday
That maybe my parents would see my insubordination
As free will instead of rebellion
You always fear what you don’t understand
But there’s a choice that comes after
Fight or flight
Run back to the 3-story house you call a home
Or throw me a lifeline and trudge with me
Through my grit and grime
Maybe that Chrysler 300 can turn on a dime
But I can’t seem to get your time of day
‘Cause you see me walking down a long and lonesome road
But tell me to get off of it
To follow the yellow brick road to Jesus
And I’ll live in Emerald City with the Great and Powerful Oz
But these lies are locked like the boot of a car
For too many unpaid parking tickets
And maybe I don’t have a heart filled with courage
Or a head full of knowledge
So I’m left to the Wicked Witch
Of the path that I’m on right now
And it’s not like you can’t learn to love me
That’s not it, you did it before
But now it’s a little harder to love me
You see me as a rose in your garden
But don’t pick me ‘cause I come with a couple thorns on the side
As if to say the scars you left me with
Aren’t a signature from your own thorns
I mean I hate to break it to you
But sometimes you make me feel like an orphan
One in reverse order of natural adoptions
First you saw me, didn’t quite know how to love me
But knew deep down in your virgin hearts that I was yours to claim
And as time went on, you did love me
Like I came right from your womb
And as time went on, you had a serious loathing
For my unconformity to your portrait family picture
You grew distant… cold…
So I ran farther, hoping my trail would go cold, too
Every action has an equal but opposite reaction
I hope you’ve learned from my pain
Because no child should ever feel like an orphan
“I fell in love the first day,” Xexal said with a smile. “I was meant to be here.”
After being kicked out of her parent’s house for being transgender, Xexal had nowhere to go, and at 19, found herself at Urban Peak, Denver’s homeless youth shelter. A few of Xexal’s fellow Peak-mates had been coming to AfA’s weekly drop-in workshops. Curious, Xexal decided to check it out for herself.
“It was really cool to see there are free youth programs like this that let people vent their emotions.” She said she loves the structure of the curriculum and how the writing prompts offer topics and channels that access a writer’s creativity and allow for a safe space to express feelings.
No stranger to using writing as a tool, Xexal has been creating poetry since the age of 10, when she was being bullied by her peers in school. “I realized that my words had power,” she said, and through writing she was able to connect to her life instead of lashing out and “doing stupid things because I wasn’t feeling good.”
While things still aren’t perfect or always easy, she takes pride in the fact that she does not pressure herself with a specific path as to what life should look like. Rather, she focuses on being happy and cherishes the strong network of support through AfA.
Although Xexal has suffered from depression and even thoughts of suicide in some of her lowest times, she says that has changed. She now finds connection and hope through the workshops and the relationships she has formed at AfA. “I honestly consider myself a bit of a warrior, because I’ve been through a lot but I’m still here and kicking it.”
Alysa is an amazing student from Endeavor Academy who has worked through issues of self-esteem and body image in the Phoenix Rising workshops. Halfway through the workshop series, she came up to a facilitator after class and said she had an idea for an incredible performance piece, and wanted to perform it for her classmates. Alysa was the guest artist for her workshop this past week, and she dazzled the room with her inspiring poem and her radiant beauty – with AND without makeup. We love and honor our youths’ powerful voices!
Ivan Villegas, 16, walked in the packed auditorium of Cherry Creek High School on February 4th and immediately wanted to leave. He told AfA Program Manager, MJ Smart, that he wouldn’t have agreed to perform if he knew how big the audience would be. There were roughly 250 people filling the room. The energy was high and people were anxious for the opening ceremony of the Diversity Fair to begin.
Ivan, keen to the energy of the room, started searching for a way to get out of his performance. Luckily, he was calmed by the confidence MJ and youth poet, Rachel Icolari, shared with him. Sweaty and shaky, Ivan jumped up out of his seat in the first row when the em cee called his name. He scurried across the stage, grabbed the mic free from the em cee and drew in a deep breathe.
With the confidence of a seasoned performer, Ivan introduced himself to the hundreds of spectators before him. “My poem is titled ‘Diversity,’ and it goes like this…”
Ivan knocked it out of the park! His piece was powerful and timely, and perfect for the event! The inspiration for Ivan’s piece came from his experience at Slam Nuba, a local poetry slam that his workshop attended last month.
Ivan is a pleasure to work with and an inspiration to all he comes in contact with. Welcome to the Art from Ashes family, Ivan!