Writing in Times of Disaster

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This fall has brought a series of disasters, from Hurricane Harvey in Texas to Irma in Florida to the wildfires that have recently raged in northern California. The effects of these disasters are still all around us, particularly in Puerto Rico, which was hit by not one but two huge storms, the last one named Maria. In the month that has passed since Hurricane Maria hit, many have spoken and sung out in support: Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Almost Like Praying” is just one example. And all across the country, students are writing about their own experiences with these disasters. As always, writing provides an opportunity to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions; it also offers catharsis and connection—and can lead to action. 

In this regard, meet Amaryllis Lopez, whom I’ve known through a Bread Loaf Teachers’ Network’s project called Next Generation Leadership Network (I wrote about this exciting initiative in a previous blog post). Amaryllis is one of this group of leaders, who are already making a difference in a number of different sites around the country. 

Currently a student at Bridgewater State (class of 2020), Amaryllis is majoring in English and minoring in Latin American and Caribbean Studies; she is also president of La Sociedad Latinix and a Social Action Writing Leader in the Andover Bread Loaf program in Lawrence. As you’ll see, she is also using writing as a major means of self-expression, as testimony, and as a vibrant call for action. Here is one of her recent blog posts, “Maria, Maria,” which she hopes will get others writing and acting positively in the face of total disaster.

Amaryllis’s post originally appeared on the Next Generation Leadership Network blog and the poem is inspired by Carlos Santana’s “Maria Maria.”


Maria Maria

October 5, 2017 

Amaryllis Lopez

Lawrence, MA


Hey, everyone! Long time no post.

As many of you know Hurrican Maria recently hit Puerto Rico devastatingly hard. A lot of my family still live in Puerto Rico and I’m still waiting on responses of safety from a couple of members. As usual, 45 “response” is unprofessional, inhumane, and ignorant….. the only way I can make sense of the world is through poetry. This is a poem I’ve been working on since the day the hurricane hit. I’m still as angry, hurt, and lonely as that day. Poetry is the only medium I know that can effectively educate and on hard topics and conversations in an inclusive way. With poetry, everyone is involved-- whether you are listening or performing, everyone in the room brings the poem to life for the words cannot be ignored and you can never say you weren’t aware. It’s in its infancy, but this is the latest version.  I finished it today.

 Se mira Maria on the corner
thinking of ways to make it better
but the US aint never helped us get any better
only took our ports to make them richer
la isla will be headlining news for a couple days then your president will drown it out
the Red Cross with proclaim themselves saviors and wipe away our blood with Benjamins
turn our pain into currency
make a meal for themselves out of our hunger

 Maria Maria 
she cries for help
 stop the looting, stop the shooting
Uncle Sam pick pocking on the corner
ahora vengo mama cause
her daughters have been uprooted and planted in a different son every year
every year the sun gets a little hotter
and now there
s plenty of water to put out the fire

it’s been a week since I’ve written this poem and nothing has been done
 Ni gota de esperanza 
F*** Elaine, this shit ain
t a good news story
your satisfaction ain
t shit when my people are dying
when laws are in place to benefit you first before us
this shit is a genocide
people are dying, I don’t know how to say that poetically

like y’all just gonna claim a whole territory and then forget it’s yours
debt be our housewarming present and
the only time we be American is when we’re on the front line
you’re not on our front lines
it’s clear that we are not on your minds cause getting angry about people taking knees for police brutality is more offense than ignoring millions of Americans in need

 Maria Maria
she reminds me of a west side story 

Of a modern day colonizer
Something like a punishment
A slow pulse
A muted drum line
like the heart of the Caribbean ain
t screaming in an empty all-inclusive resort storage room,
smiling for tips 24/7
while you sip on your drinks 24/7
for the next 6 months there will be no power 24/7
is there any light left in your hearts?

 Borikén, you know youre my lover
When the wind blows I can feel you through the weather
And even when we
re apart
It feels like we’re together

Credit: Pixaby Image 1292634 by Lenaeriksson, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.