OTHER VOICES: Brendan Constantine

OTHER VOICES: Brendan Constantine

There is a poem written by a much-respected performing poet and the author of at least five collections of original poems, Brendan Constantine, that captures an exploration of the power of language and the creation of meaning quite beautifully.

The poem, “The Opposites Game,” arose out of a writing exercise for Constantine’s elementary school creative writing students at Windward School in Los Angeles, California.  It is also a powerful look through the eyes of children about a perennial and perhaps quintessential American question: “What is the opposite of a gun?”

Blank Verse Films, a project to film spoken poetry started by filmmaker Mike Gioia, turned Constantine’s poem into a short film that quickly went viral on YouTube in April, 2018.  Here’s the video:

The following year, in 2019, the “The Opposites Game” poem was made into a TED-Ed short film by Anna Samo and Lisa LaBracio.  If you click on the button below, you can also see what they did with the poem.  It’s a very different take.

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POETRY AS COMMUNITY SERVICE AND A BLESSING  WAY

Besides being a teacher at local schools and colleges, an award-winning poet and a popular performer, Constantine is an ardent supporter of the poetry communities in Southern Calfornia.  Among other things, he has helped to organize poetry workshops for veterans, hospitals, foster care centers, and shelters for the homeless.

Constantine is especially proud of his work with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, an initiative developed by Gary Glazner in 2003, that brings interactive poetry reading into the lives of those with Alzheimer’s and their families.

mummy without a mouth
“Speechless (Houston Museum of Natural Science)” by elaine via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Then in 2017, Constantine worked with speech-language pathologist Michael Biel who teaches at California State University, Northridge, to develop the first poetry workshop for Biehl’s remarkable “Aphasia Book Club”.   The book club, the first of its kind for people coping with the effects of aphasia, was organized by Dr. Biel and his public librarian wife Francie Schwarz and has been in existence since 2013.   The group meets at the public library where Schwarz works.

(You can find out more about it by clicking on the Book Club name above.)

artwork depicts aphasia
“aPhasia” by madamepsychosis via Flickr [BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Aphasia, in case you didn’t know, is a language disorder caused by damage in a part of the left brain that is responsible for language expression and comprehension.  It also messes up reading and writing skills as well.

public sculpture with no mouth
“Speechless” (La Sala de los Magos in the plaza outside of Centro Cultural Cabañas, art by Alejandro Colunga) by Alan Levine via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The condition may happen following a stroke or severe head injury.  It can also be the result of a brain tumor, a brain infection, or progressive neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s as well.  It affects about a million people in America, according to the National Aphasia Association, who say that nearly 180,000 Americans acquire it each year.

Wo!

child holding a bunch of wild flowers
“Love You So” by Amanda Tipton via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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HEADER PHOTO CREDIT:  “Rijksmuseum – The Gun Room 1, Amsterdam” by Gilbert Sopakuwa via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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Please note:  If you would like to contribute a poem to this LIFE-BUILT POEMS:  Living Out Loud blog, please click on the button below and check out the “Guest Poet Portal.”

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I do ask three things of my guest poets:

  • a poem of your own making that has great meaning and mana for you,
  • the back-story for the poem — what inspired you or how you made it or whatever you want to tell about it, and
  • an image you own that I can use as the featured photo in the header. (The last is optional. I do ask that the image you share is one you own — either an image of yourself or something that relates to the poem.  If you choose not to send an image, then I’ll go find something that works.)

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Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “OTHER VOICES: Brendan Constantine

  1. Rafael Jimenez Jr says:

    I used to write a lot of poems and had a website with about 25 poems. Its not up anymore cuz that was like 10 years ago but I definitely understand how poems can impact the writer and the people who are reading it.

    I knew there were programs out there where poets can help the community but didn’t know about the ones you explained in this article. Thanks for the info 

    1. Rafael, I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.  It has been a bit of an awakening for me to realize that language — poetry, story, and words — do have such an impact on all aspects of life and living.  It’s my coolest discovery!

      What follows from that one is the thought that poets and storytellers can be change-agents who make dents in the world their own selves!  Yay!  Up the Bards!

      Please do come again.

  2. I love the stunning images in your post.  They really do speak for themselves.

    I never knew about the Aphasia club. 

    I have come across a person having a stroke and suffering from partial face paralysis. He barely could utter words clearly. With homeopathic medication, he slowly recovered. The stroke per this person was the result of a severe mental shock from someone closer to him in the family. 

    It is nice to know it can be the beginning of dementia. Would it be better to read, write and do some creative thinking every day to delay the disease at least?

    1. Anusuya, thanks for sharing your story.  You might want to check out the NIH (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) website page about aphasia. 

      Here’s the link:  https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/heal

      It gives a lot of information about the disorder and how people can be helped to grow workarounds in the neural circuitry of their brains that compensate for the bits that don’t work so well any more.  A lot of that help involves things like talking and writing and regaining their ability to communicate.

      I would think that one of the hardest things of all would be losing the ability to use words effectively. 

      I am pleased you like the images in my posts.  I tend to use the ones on Flickr that have Creative Commons licensing, mostly because there is such a wide variety of great photographers (as well as ordinary folks) who post their work on the pages.  I am always amazed by them.

      Please do come again.

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