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People will Talk: Barbara Cole

Photo courtesy of Barabra Cole

A new mom and the Education Director at Just Buffalo Literary Center, Barbara Cole holds a Ph.D. in Poetry and Poetics from UB. Cole, 36, is one of the forces behind Wordplay, Just Buffalo’s annual anthology of student writing. We spoke about promises made and kept, the sound of poetry, and the power of the printed word.

Jana Eisenberg: Congratulations on your 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry fellowship. How did that come about?
Barbara Cole: I was very pregnant during the application review last year, but I promised myself that I would continue my own thinking and writing when I became a mother. I submitted it almost half-heartedly. It’s great that it happened.


JE: What does it mean for you?
BC: You receive a bit of money to somehow buy yourself some writing time. There’s also a public event component: you’re asked to do a workshop, performance, or reading.


JE: Is performance an element of poetry?
BC: I think so. In a way I’m more interested in the performance aspect. It could have to do with how orally based my work is. One of my highest priorities is the aural and sonic quality.


JE: You started at Just Buffalo as a teaching artist while still a grad student, and you’ve served as Education Director since 2008. How has it changed?
BC: Ironically, as funding becomes more dire every year, we’ve grown tremendously.


JE: Just Buffalo teaching artists work with young students in their classrooms; these school-children get the opportunity to express their “wishes & fears, hopes & dreams.” How is this huge undertaking achieved?

BC: I think that our students feel a similar sadness and frustration to what I felt as a grad student—their learning is so curriculum-focused that they don’t get to just let their imaginations run wild.
I’ve observed fourth graders receiving a lesson about, for example, Buddhist meditation. The room goes quiet, they’ve got their pencils in their hands. And slowly but surely, each student puts the pencil to the paper. The teacher moves through the classroom, helping each child. After 20 minutes, they’ll have something sad, or funny or moving. Every time I’m amazed; it’s as if they’re just waiting for this to happen. 


JE: Wordplay wasn’t published last year, due to lack of funding. This year, you raised money through Kickstarter. Why do you feel so strongly about publishing a “hard copy”?
BC: I believe in online publishing and the power of the web (you can see our work at writingwithlightbuffalo.org). But many, many children who end up in Wordplay—or their friends and families—don’t have computers at home. I know that parents save the issue in which their children are published. It’s a major life event.
I made myself the promise and I’m publicly standing on my feet. I said, “We are not going to not publish it this year.”


Note: Through her successful Kickstarter campaign, which ended Wednesday, August 31, 2011, Cole raised over $5,500 to cover publication costs. The 2011 edition of Wordplay will be available in November. The magazine is free; to request a copy, contact Just Buffalo Literary Center at (716) 832-5400.




Inset photo courtesy of Just Buffalo, image by Jon R. Hand


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