PERSONAL REFLECTION: Madeline Holland, Harvard University
I first met Lisa Pegram when I joined her Young Voices seminar at the Sackler-Freer Gallery. When I signed on for a three-week summer seminar, I never imagined that I was beginning an ongoing relationship with poetry, with my community, or with Lisa. Following that initial seminar, I became a member of Lisa’s Shakti Brigade; read, wrote, and performed poetry across Washington D.C. under Lisa’s guidance; apprenticed myself to Lisa as a senior project in writing and reflection; turned to Lisa for advice when beginning my own teaching; and have come to count Lisa among the most inspirational educators and friends I have ever learned from. Four years from our first meeting, I am humbled and grateful when I realize how deeply my continued commitments to poetry and to public service have been influenced by my time spent in Lisa’s programming and presence, and made possible by the confidence I gained there.
One of the first exercises Lisa ever had me perform as her student was the creation of “unlikely pairs.” In the context of writing poetry,“unlikely pairs” are the groupings of two ideas, words, or images one would not normally place together. Often, those of us in the seminar would surprise ourselves by coming up with unexpectedly striking phrases. We ended up saying just what we meant in ways we had never before thought to say them. Two years later, I have come to appreciate how appropriate an introduction “unlikely pairs” was to Lisa Pegram.
I signed up for the Young Voices seminar thinking it would be about writing poetry. The seminar began with a week-long introduction to yoga and meditation. Lisa saw silent reflection as a fitting start to written expression. Unlikely pair number 1. The seminar participants Lisa had gathered ranged from soft spoken suburbanites to urban DC artists. She helped show us that people from diverse backgrounds can deliver a more profound common message. Unlikely pair number 2. After our yoga introduction, the seminar moved to the Smithsonian gallery, where we explored the exhibits as Lisa guided us in using the visual as inspiration for the verbal. Unlikely pair number 3. Since I have known her, Lisa has pushed me and her other students to consider the unlikely or unexamined relationships between poetry and peace, words and actions, ourselves and our surroundings, our talents and our responsibilities. The unlikely pairs go on and on.
But the unlikely pair was not only an apt introduction to Lisa because she helped us see them in the world around us, but because she personifies one. Lisa has the incredible ability to seem at once a peer and a mentor. She manages to be both relatable and wise. She guides us to answers by helping lead us toward better questions. She encourages us to stretch ourselves as individuals but to also fulfill our duties as members of our community. She teaches us not only as an educator, but as an example.
Perhaps what is most impressive about Lisa is her ability to help her students not only improve what they put out into the world – stretching us to write more creatively and more beautifully – but also improve how we take in the world. All 13 of us girls from her Young Voices seminar left after a mere three weeks more confidently viewing the world through the lens of a female, of an activist, of an artist. Throughout the following year, whenever Lisa would propose a gathering of our group, whether to speak publicly about the value of inter-generational dialogue, to perform our poetry, or to uncover the unlikely metaphors contained in tea ceremonies or pilgrimages or sculptures, we all came gladly not only because she had created such a spirit of friendship in her classroom, but also because she had helped show us the value of using our voices.