From young scholars to teen scribes, youth who participate in WordPlay Cincy programs learn from some of the region’s most talented writers and teachers. This fall is no exception, as 25-year-old Elese Daniel, who joined the WordPlay family of volunteers three years ago, steps in as the non-profit’s Writer in Residence for 2016-2017.
“I really enjoy working with students,” says Daniel, whose day job is community liaison to the office of Vice Mayor David Mann. In that role, she helped re-start Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate program. The city’s first Poet Laureate of the 21st Century, Pauletta Hansel, coincidentally also served as a WordPlay Writer in Residence.
When she’s not helping shape city government policy and relaying community concerns to city leaders, Daniel writes poetry—the kind of poetry that is as at home on human skin as it is on city buildings. Many of her head-turning phrases were featured in ArtWorks “CincyInk” poem that now adorns 263 bodies (in the form of tattoos) and 54 buildings.
Daniel’s introduction to WordPlay came before that 2014 city-wide poetry project, when she first met teen students participating in WordPlay’s signature WordUp program. The high-school students, a group with high potential and often low-performance records, were hand-picked by their teachers and counselors for the enrichment opportunity during which they would learn and write and grow together. They took to Daniel quickly, and her responsiveness and support of their writing and creative expression made a big impression on WordPlay Co-Founder and Executive Director Libby Hunter.
“Elese has a power within her that commands attention,” Hunter says. “She can relate to our youth as a near peer. She has credibility when she listens to what they have to say and encourages them to express themselves. We’re so glad she’s joining us now to add her voice and insights to all of our creative writing and community building programs.”
Daniel is an alumna of the University of Cincinnati, where she majored in English and Journalism. She enjoys reading her poems in public, often at Northside’s Chase Public, and claims that she’ll read “anywhere someone will ask me to read a poem.” That has included in the tunnels under the Mockbee in Brighton.
As Writer in Residence, Daniel will spend time every month with teens in WordUp, which has expanded from its beginnings at Aiken High School in College Hill to include a program at Hughes High School across from UC’s Uptown campus. She’ll also have input to Cincy Scribes, a spoken word program for young adults run by WordPlay teaching artist Desirae Hosley, lead creative writing workshops and even work alongside WordPlay’s youngest scholars in its daily afternoon programs.
One area she hopes to explore with teens is using cognitively aware memes to spark conversations about current events, culture and identity. (SEE ATTACHED EXAMPLE)
“I really want to play off the talents of the teachers and programs already in place,” Daniel says. “I want students to understand that what they have to say is worthwhile to write, read and perform.”
At the same time, Daniel wants students to leave WordPlay programs with skills they can use. She believes gaining confidence in their writing can be a first step toward gaining confidence in themselves.
SAMPLES OF ELESE DANIEL’S POETRY:
[I found] a white gift box with my Daddy’s name written in my Mom’s handwriting in the corner of the basement, beneath a pile of mothballed tinsel and ornaments I made in grade school: Popsicle-stick snowflakes with jingle bell centers, sat spider-webbed like the ceiling corners of our old house, before my brother and I drug brooms through them, listening to Daddy sing Lauryn Hill over the vacuum’s hum.
everything is everything / what is meant to be, will be /
after winter, must come spring / change, it comes eventually.
My tongue smooths
the ridges of my palate
attempting to taste
the outside air--
its Swisher scent
sweet in the cold inhale
of January walks.
On Hamilton Avenue,
I wait for the bus
beside old women
clouded in exhaustion:
Hard faces in soft coats.