18 Sep A Farewell Message from Ann Teplick
The Story of My Heart
by Ann Teplick, longtime Project Lead at Pongo
“Very little grows
On jagged rock.
Will come up
Where you are.”
You know how it is when you land yourself somewhere unexpected, after wandering, say, at an outdoor arts festival. Say, in Seattle. At Bumbershoot. The summer of 1999.
There’s too much stimulation for my hyper-sensitive brain—loud music, wall-to-wall people, food trucks with lines that stretch into the next county. I walk sideways, wander, a flaneur—always curious, open, smiling—on this crowded circuit, where I bump shoulders with a few too many.
This is where I meet Richard Gold, the founder of the Pongo Poetry Project. He stands in the sun in a baseball cap, at the Pongo table, surrounded by many tables where other arts organizations display their literature. Chapbooks of youth poems from King County juvenile detention lie open. He engages passersby to read a poem and learn about Pongo. I read poems for close to forty minutes, moved by the truth telling and vulnerability of these stories. I know this is the work I want to do. At the time, I had been a teaching artist for many years with Powerful Schools in the Rainier Valley.
Fast forward twenty-one years. I’ve had the supreme fortune of working with Pongo as the Project Lead at Child Study Treatment Center (CSTC) since 2005; with five years before that, at King County juvenile detention.
I love this organization— its people, its mission to encourage the stories of youth who live challenging lives, many, which are layered with trauma. I’ve learned the fine art of deep listening. I’ve learned to be present and mindful. I’ve known there is no way I could step into the shoes and walk the walk of the youth I have written with. I’ve told them so but added I will walk with them, beside them. And I have. I’ve cried as a witness to words that are unbearable. My heart has been broken and heartened, often at the same time. I’ve come to accept my own vulnerabilities/fontanelles/soft spots. I know that hope can be found in the tiniest crevice. I’ve seen it, over and over. The youth I have met at CSTC are brilliant and beautiful. They hold wisdom far beyond their years, and will always be my teachers. For this I am grateful.
I’m excited to pass the torch to the next Project Lead at Child Study Treatment Center, so they, too, can experience the joy, wonder, and love that I have these many years. I’m excited to follow the growth of this organization which continues to be the story of my heart.
“The story of my heart/is written on invisible pages/soft and fragile as a butterfly sigh.” (From Pongo’s 2021 anthology of CSTC poems, The Story of My Heart)