Saturday, March 8, 2014

Twyla and the Phoenix

“Twyla and the Phoenix”

Singed by the flame
Wings spread anew
Rising in the air
Proud Phoenix
No more cowering in the shadows
You dance alive in the flames

Weakened by the emergence
But not for long
Fueled by the strength
The strength in her song

Songs compiled by the old tunes
In her head
Losing the fear
Forgetting the dread

Be proud Phoenix
You’ve begun anew
The embers are dying
That gave birth to you

Singed by the flames
Forged by the fire
Hope in the wingspan
Lifting from the pyre.

—Twyla Olsen (4/28/90)

On perhaps the most appropriate day for rebirth, January 1, I heard from an educator named Twyla Olsen.

Twyla lives in a small gold-rush town in the Sierra Foothills and instructs speech and communication classes at Columbia College. She is also an artist located at Studio B in downtown Sonora. She can frequently be found in the southwest, one of her favorite locales to paint scenery. 

She wrote me the (excerpted) following:

Amazing to run across this information on David and the Phoenix. I didn’t think Mr. Ormondroyd would still be alive. [MTN: Nor did I.]

She said she’d written the above poem many years after reading David and the Phoenix. I forwarded her kind message to Edward and the two connected directly.

I asked if Twyla is she’d elaborate on her connection to the book and explain why she reached out to me. She granted me permission to post her response:

The poem almost wrote itself. It appeared to me one evening sitting at the computer and in response to an English class assignment. I was a re-entry student at age 38, feeling both fear and excitement as I returned to school. This is when I first began experiencing the memory, power, and influence of a book I had read in 2nd grade.
Have you had something—a book, a poem or a myth that you read when you were very young—stay with you, guiding you throughout your life, reappearing exactly when you needed it? That’s what the book David and the Phoenix has been for me. 

It is amazing that the theme of this book that I read over 50 years ago as a child would impact my adult life in so many ways. 

[Soon after] I wrote the poem, I realized that it [had come] almost fully formed from my memory and impressions of Edward Ormondroyd’s book. But what evoked the memory? 

“Twyla could work harder if she tried and [could] receive better grades,” said Mrs. Hunt in 3rd grade. I was and have always been a creative thinker and given to daydreaming in class. Mrs. Hunt didn’t understand that my mind was full of images that I had no way of communicating to her. When I read, the world came alive with my mind’s pictures and David’s Phoenix was a powerful image.

I was curious when I wrote my Phoenix poem as an adult. Why had Mr. Ormondroyd’s book been dormant but still alive inside me for so long? Maybe it was the adventure of education. After writing the poem, I thought how amazing it would be if I could tell the author about this poem. I wanted to let him know how this book had captivated my young mind and at this unexpected moment suddenly reappeared! Unable to find any contact information for him, I went on about my life.

Fast forward to today. I began to work on a project persuading funders in education to remember how important the humanities and the arts are to a well-rounded education.  After all, I was living evidence that we cannot put imagination and creativity on a spreadsheet. We may not know how exposure to the arts will inspire or guide a student down the road. But I know deep down that without art, literature, and visualization, my own life experiences and career as an educator would have been far less colorful, and certainly less creative.

Doing research for this important presentation led me to your blog. I was amazed that you had interviewed Mr. Ormondroyd, and that the opportunity for me to share my poem with the author of David and the Phoenix was still a possibility! It was a chapter called “In Which Twyla Finds Marc on the Internet and Her Dream Comes True.”

Sharing my poem with Mr. Ormondroyd was life coming full circle and could very well indicate [the beginning of an auspicious] New Year.

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