Smoke on the Water: a poem by Lisa Paige

Editor’s note: Lisa Paige recently completed the TLA Foundations class as part of TLAN’s certificate program. In the class, students are given weekly prompts to which they may respond in any form they feel called to. The following is Lisa’s reflection on both this aspect of the class and the poem it inspired. The poem itself was in response to the July 2021 Oregon wildfires.

Participating in a TLAN course has opened my eyes to the unpredictable responses to prompts; not so much from others, because I expect that, but from myself! Who knew that after a reading for a class on facilitating writing workshops I would write a poem? It flowed like a waterfall when I had believed I was in a drought.

Experiencing the very thing we hope our workshop participants will has been the best inspiration to continue the work I’ve just begun engaging in with TLAN.

And now, humbly, my poem.

Smoke on the Water

The sky turned gray tonight. 
Oregon’s smoke reached New England, 
lapping at me like a needy puppy or
maybe more a teething bitch.

She stole the sunset, 
swirling in secretive 
ghostly spirals 
atop the pond. 

“See me?” she said,
susserating.

Once, the sky looked gray to me even on the sunniest of days. 
Now, my bright light shines even in the darkest night.
Once, I had little energy for the troubles of others -- 
never mind strangers living on a distant coast. 
Now, with every leaf that ignites in Oregon, 
I lose a part of my soul.

So is this day gray? 
Or light?

Through the clouds of Mother Earth, 
I reach for hope. 
If my life could be saved, 
so too can our home.

Lisa Paige’s essays and features have been published widely; she also ghostwrites, edits, teaches writing for wellness workshops, coaches teen writers, and is at work on a YA novel manuscript. www.insightlearning.co

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Spotlight on the Keynote: Lyla June Johnston

Lyla June Johnston is an Indigenous public speaker, artist, scholar and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages from Taos, New Mexico. 

Her personal mission is to grow closer to Creator by learning how to love deeper and to support and empower indigenous youth. Her messages focus on Indigenous rights, supporting youth, traditional land stewardship practices and healing inter-generational and inter-cultural trauma. 

Lyla June blends undergraduate studies in human ecology at Stanford University, graduate work in Native American Pedagogy at the University of New Mexico, and the indigenous worldview she grew up with to inform her perspectives and solutions. Her internationally acclaimed presentations are conveyed through the medium of poetry, music and/or speech. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in Indigenous Studies with a focus on Indigenous Food Systems Revitalization.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, poets Caits Meissner and Javier ZamoraLyla June will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

Spotlight on the Keynote: Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States in 1999 when he was nine—traveling unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the US to be reunited with his parents. Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), his first poetry collection, explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. This collection won the 2018 North California Book Award, the 2018 Firecracker Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Años Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts contest. 

In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Works Blog, Zamora states, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.” 

After selecting Javier as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.”

Zamora holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program and earned an MFA from New York University. His poems have been featured in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New York Times, and many others. Zamora has received many honors, including a 2015 NEA fellowship, the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2017 Narrative Prize. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted the Undocupoets, of which he’s a founding member, the Writer for Writers Award for working to promote undocumented or previously undocumented writers. Most recently he was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, where he was working on his memoir and second collection of poems. He lives in Harlem, NY.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, spoken word artist Lyla June, and poet Caits MeissnerJavier Zamora will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

In Gratitude for Martin Swinger’s Life and Music, by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter

Martin Swinger, a virtuoso singer and songwriter, died suddenly in early July, leaving behind his husband (and partner of 35 years) Brian and many broken hearts in his Asbury Park, N.J. home community, and prior to that, central Maine, where he was a mainstay of the music scene for years.

But when I think of Martin, I see him at my kitchen table, serenading the then-coordinator of the TLAN, Deb Hensley, volunteers Nancy Hubble and Laura Ramberg, and me as we stuffed folders for the 2014 Power of Words conference.

He was like this: always bringing joy, humor, and the power of music to wherever he landed. He was gifted at helping in multiple other ways too: for the conference, he coordinator participant transportation, helped Deb with many pieces of the conference coordination, and generally brought a sense of peace and homecoming to all of us.

Martin Swinger keeping the TLA Network volunteers company as they prepared for the 2014 Power of Words Conference.

Then again, Martin knew how vital hospitality and art are to this world. He grew up gay in the South, falling in love with music and books of all kinds. In recent years, he went on to be quite decorated as a songwriter, winning many notable big-time contests and performing across the country, even to the delight of the late Pete Seeger and very-much alive Vance Gilbert and John Waters. His seven CDs won lots of well-deserved awards, including from American Song Competition, SolarFest, Rosegarden Coffeehouse and more. Audiences have adored him for decades for his warm and vibrant voice and eclectic blend of Americana, swing and jazz, traditional music, show tune, Klezmer music, and improvisation. Deb and Martin sang together like angels from an enchanted land.

Deb says of Martin: Martin was a true prince, a friend to me and to so many others who knew and loved him. He had a heart the size of Mars and talent to match. Frost says, “Nothing gold can stay.” But Martin’s songs will stay. Oh yes they will. And so will his love. 

His generosity extended in other ways: when one of our keynote performers for the conference didn’t show up, Martin graciously volunteered to perform on the spot and for free (although we did extend to him a small stipend anyway). When he performed, he lifted a full house of conference goers, who had been waiting a while for the keynote, to their feet with original songs such as “Betty Boop and Buddha,” “Consider the Oyster,” and my favorite, “Little Plastic Part.” That song, about how breaking a tiny part of a vacuum that “makes the whole thing work” speaks to having a little part of our heart broken so that it doesn’t work anymore.

I can’t help thinking about how Martin himself was a little vital part with a big impact himself. 

Find more about Martin here: https://martinswinger.com/

With great gratitude and appreciation for the life of Martin Swinger, singer-songwriter.

Spotlight on the Board: Empowerment Coach Jade Eby

Writing coach, community builder and author Jade Eby is a TLAN Board member, and the chair of the 2021 Power of Words Conference Committee. We were excited to sit down with Jade to talk about her work as a creative empowerment advocate, her creative community, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.

You call yourself a creative empowerment advocate, can you tell us a little more about what that means?

Yes! Ever since I was a little girl, creativity has been an instrumental part of my life. I’ve used creativity as part of my trauma recovery journey, and I’ve used creativity to help hundreds of other individuals find their voices and tell their stories.

I strongly believe that when a person can get in touch with their creative side and then lean into it — they are able to fully step into an empowered state of being. I feel like that’s my life’s purpose, actually. To help others realize the inherent power and creativity they already have inside of them. I empower individuals to become empowered.

This is the main reason I created my digital community.

Can you talk about your community a little more? What role does it play? Who is it for?

I like to say that my Creative Empowerment Community is really a sanctuary for creatives. It’s a small but mighty community that encourages, supports, and empowers creatives to create. But what’s really amazing about it is that we get to come together as our authentic and whole selves. Members come from many walks of life, but we share a common passion of being creative.

There are many wonderful online communities out there to learn how to be creative, but I haven’t found many communities that embrace the actual living as a creative. The trials and tribulations that come with that. There’s more to living a creative life than just creating and that’s really where the benefit of this community comes in.

We come together as a family and work through the highs and lows of this creative life we’re living, as a community. It’s really beautiful! And it fits in with my work at TLA network so well.

Mock-up description of Jade Eby’s Creative Empowerment Community .

How does supporting the TLA Network connect to the work you are doing?

What drew me to the TLA Network to begin with was that same sense of community and connection that I felt was missing from my life. When I understood the mission and goal of the TLA Network, I knew I wanted to be a part of the organization on a deeper level because the work is so important. Connecting creativity to our social justice activism and making change is one of the most beautiful ways to use the gifts we’ve been given.

When I was asked to chair the conference for the 2021 Power of Words Conference, I was elated because it puts everything I stand for to work!

How amazing to be able to help spearhead a conference where we lift up diverse voices and stories. How amazing to be able to show other creatives that we can build a safe and supportive community that will honor what everyone has to say. Being part of this conference is another form of empowerment to me, and as you know, I’m all about empowerment!

Jade Eby has dedicated her career to empowering others to find their voice. As a creative empowerment advocate, Jade specializes in expressive writing + journaling, writing fiction, and creative writing as a healing modality. She is certified in trauma recovery coaching, group facilitation, and workshops for journaling. She earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. You can find more information about her and her programs at www.jadeeby.com

Volunteer Opening: Director of Social Media

Looking for the chance to share your skills and talents with a thriving group of thoughtful, engaged peers who care deeply about the transformative language arts?

Consider volunteering for the TLA Network! 

We are currently looking for a Director of Social Media.

This part-time volunteer position is the perfect opportunity for the right person to build leadership experience in the field while developing and implementing a robust social media strategy for the Network.

Click here for more information about the position – or reach out to us at director@tlanetwork.org.

Spotlight on the Volunteer: Fiber Artist and Poet Cindy Rinne

As part of our Spotlight series, we have been focusing on some of the transformative artists who make up the TLA Network.

This month, we asked TLAN member and volunteer Cindy Rinne to share some about her work as a poet and an artist, and about her connection to the transformative language arts.

TLA Network: It’s wonderful to get to learn more about your work. Tell us about your process, and how you combine fiber arts, poetry and performance.

CR: I am an ecofeminist artist creating mixed-media fiber works as process art – these are collages layering fabrics from around the world to tell stories. There is not always a plan when I begin.

I work in collaboration with the materials. Sometimes text from my poetry comes alongside the imagery. Nature is the inspiration in both animal, tree, and plant voices. People may appear. I work on several projects at once to allow ideas to percolate.

In my work, textiles hang like tapestries to form a sculpture or are quilted. Sculptures explore dimension on the body and are a narrative from my poems or a play. The wearable fabric sculptures are also meant to come alive in performance art. Body holding space in movement, pattern, and sound.

TLA Network: You are fairly new to this community – how did you happen to find the TLA Network?

CR: I like to check out the residencies and conferences in writing magazines. The TLA Network’s 2019 Power of Word conference, in Scottsdale, AZ caught my eye. Not too far away and at a retreat center sounded great. Annually, I attend a huge writers conference and liked the idea of a more intimate, creative event – no huge book fairs or thousands of people.

The POW conference…was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. ~ Cindy Rinne

The POW conference description was a mix of who I am as a fiber artist, poet, and performance artist. Here was a place for talks, experiential workshops, storytelling, ecological and social justice, and spirituality to expand my practice. While attending, I was able to have early morning discussions and meals with the workshop leaders and some presenters. I could walk the labyrinth. This was a safe place to try new, creative things with other attendees.

TLA Network: You’ve written two chapbooks of poetry while participating in the TLAN conference and a Caits Meissner class for the Network – what in particular inspired you to create these works?

CR: My latest chapbook, Knife Me Split Memories (Cholla Needles Press), contains poems about my amazing Power of Words conference roommate, actor and playwright Valerie David – I describe her as a “three-time cancer survivor [who] has pelican bones and feathers of broken glass who sings a water spirit song.”

During the pandemic, I decided to take the TLAN workshop “& They Call Us Crazy” by Caits Meissner. The concept of the outsider appealed to me. A class combining art, writing, and social justice was a unique offering. I also liked that she creates ‘zines and thinks outside the box with her own work. Caits brought enthusiasm and great energy to the class as she presented us with artists and writers both known and unknown to me. She gave several prompts to choose from. The online class was easy to navigate, allowing me to see the richness in what other students created from the same prompts. I tried various poetic forms including erasure, canto, and collage.

I wrote silence between drumbeats (Four Feathers Press & Written by Veterans), as part of Caits’ class. In the process of writing, sometimes I combined art and poetry. The social justice poems and cover fiber art for this book were birthed in that class. “I alone / tread the red circle.” 

Cover artwork from silence between drumbeats, by Cindy Rinne.

Both the in-person POW conference and the online TLAN class expanded who I am and how I impact the world for social / ecological justice. I am now volunteering as part of the Power of Words conference committee team.

TLA Network: What are your hopes for the 2021 Power of Words conference?

CR: As we tread the new world of a virtual conference, my goal is to create a container where others stretch their wings. The presenters are all boundary pushers who will help me see the world through a new lens as I take my creative practice to new heights as a part of community.

Cindy is a San Bernardino artist and poet who has created fine art for over 40 years. She participated in “Lydia Takeshita Legacy Exhibit Series: 3” at LA Artcore, and has been in several online group exhibitions through LAAA/825. Cindy had tapestries in “Woven Stories” at MOAH (Lancaster Museum of Art and History) and at RAFFMA at Cal State San Bernardino for “Voices of Ancient Palmyra Resounded.” She participated in “50/50, FIFTY/FIFTY, The Creative Magic of Collaboration” at the Progress Gallery, Pomona, CA. In 2020, Cindy was selected for “Hobson’s Choice” at the Torrance Art Museum. She has exhibited at the Beatnik Lounge and La Matadora Gallery in Joshua Tree and is represented by Desert Peach Gallery in Yucca Valley, CA. You can see more of her work at www.fiberverse.com

Spotlight on the Board: Jennifer Minotti

Jennifer Minotti is The Network’s newest Board member. We were excited to sit down with Jen to talk about her new Journal of Expressive Writing, her Women’s Writing Circles, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.

You created the Journal of Expressive Writing amid a global pandemic. Tell us about the journal and why you felt called to create it in this moment. 

Long before the pandemic, I spent hours conceptualizing this journal. The idea first came to me while facilitating my Women’s Writing Circles, which I have been teaching since 2015 as a Writer-in-Residence at Suffolk University’s Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston. For years, I have had the privilege of listening to hundreds of women’s stories. These stories are so amazing! I am always astounded at what women produce in just 5 or 10 minutes from a single writing prompt.

My goal is to provide a sacred writing space that supports the personal and collective wellness, self-expression, and health of my participants. For most women, this meets their needs. But for others, there is a strong desire to also have their voices heard more widely. Many women have asked me for publishing advice over the years. As you know, the publishing industry is not an easy one to navigate, especially for new writers. In addition, facing rejection can be counterproductive to women who were just supported, many for whom this is not a regular occurrence. I wanted to facilitate a publishing process for my participants, as well as others, that would be more uplifting and gratifying and that would move their voices out of the circle and into the world where they could be heard more widely! 

Amidst COVID-19, I realized that there was no better time to create this journal than right now. Many of us not on the front lines were asking ourselves how we could best be in service to others. Many felt helpless and didn’t know how to help. I’m not a seamstress, as an example, so making masks was totally out of the question! One day last Spring I realized that creating this online journal was the best way I could use my strengths and passion to make a difference in the world. I immediately started working on the website. I put out a Call for Submissions. I told myself that if I didn’t receive any submissions, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not on social media, so that made things more difficult. But by the time I launched the Journal of Expressive Writing on May 15, 2021, I had received expressive writing from 31 people. I was shocked! It could have been a non-starter, but fortunately, I think people understood what I was trying to achieve, or at least I hoped they did. I then realized that I had to write a piece introducing the journal to the world as Editor-in-Chief. That was scary, but I figured if others could put themselves out there, so could I. If you’re interested in reading more, it’s called Belly Flopping in my Evening Gown.

 You said that you thought people understood what you were trying to achieve with the new journal. What was that?  

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt that many of our most basic social and emotional needs have been replaced by desires that accompany the dominant cultural norms that permeate our technology-driven, capitalistic, and boisterous modern-day world. Before the pandemic, many people were already anxious, scared, lonely, and unsure of their place in the world. For the millions of people who were struggling with recent losses—lost jobs, deaths, illness, stay at home orders, children learning remotely, lack of stability—those feelings of loneliness, separateness, and fear were intensified.

But I knew how much expressive writing could help. Expressing our emotions through writing can help ground us. It can help us manage our emotions. It can help us make sense of our lives. The more we free write and journal, the more empathy, gratitude, forgiveness, and joy show up in our lives. I know this through personal experience and also through years of research and studying this. Expressive writing helps support healing processes and illuminates un-awakened parts of ourselves. It opens us to new perspectives and narratives. It’s so easy to do and totally free, and yet it can shift our mindset, help us feel more connected to others, and is essentially a total game changer! Expressive writing is something we can do anywhere, at anytime, even during a global pandemic and lock-down.  

In addition, I’m an activist at my core. At a fundamental level, I have this very strong belief that sharing our stories is a radical act of self-love and love for others. I couldn’t stop thinking that if we could just share our stories—in a raw, truthful and very real way—at this moment in time when we needed connection more than ever, it just might be one of the most valuable gifts we gave to ourselves and others. It just might help bridge the political, class, and racial divides that were simultaneously exploding and perhaps help in some small way. 

That’s really interesting, Jen. Tell me more about the journal’s connection to social justice for you. 

The easiest way to explain the connection for me is to borrow from what I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, who most of us know. He has this great way of explaining how, when groups listen deeply to one another—and this is similar to how women listen to other women within my Women’s Writing Circles—they start to recognize that the other group’s suffering is similar to their own, even when their specific situations may differ. I’ve studied mindfulness and mindful communications quite a bit and I love this concept of deep listening. But it’s not just about our voices. Our energies and actions spread energetically as well. I have witnessed first hand how generous commitment to sharing our stories can be a deeply healing and transformational process, and how pausing to write (and read) can yield reverence for other people and the moment we’re living in together. I can actually feel it energetically in my body.

So I guess you could say that the Journal of Expressive Writing calls on all of us to share what matters most as a form of individual and collective activism. It’s a platform to express who you are in a particular moment and to read who others are. I think too often, we hold ourselves back when we feel our writing has to be “finished” or “perfect” or any of the conditioned belief systems we carry with us.  When we can write (and operate) from our authentic selves, when we no longer feel the need to hide from our feelings or the feelings of others, tenderness starts to take shape. People’s inclination to judge softens. It’s amazing to watch and experience. Clinging and attachment to any preconception or assumption about others starts to diminish. Love emerges and so does healing, not only for the writer, but for the readers, too! Eventually, it’s a ripple effect. This is ultimately what I hope to achieve with the journal.

Do you have other goals for the journal and your Women’s Writing Circles?

Yes, I do have a vision that I have been manifesting for a while. I view the Journal of Expressive Writing and the Women’s Writing Circles working in tandem. They both serve as spaces to share, honor and bear witness to personal stories. My goal is to have Women’s Writing Circle outposts around the world, where any women wanting to facilitate these circles can replicate its design. In doing this, not only do I hope to expand the field of expressive writing and its many benefits, it’s also my goal to support marginalized women who may be able to earn a salary for the first time by bringing the Women’s Writing Circle model to their community. In this way, women can experience being both a participant, as well as a global organizer of empowerment, peace and individual independence. This “train the trainer” model is something I’d like to teach within the TLA Network, as well as elsewhere. 

The Journal of Expressive Writing then becomes the place where, as Women’s Writing Circles expand, so too does the journal. Next week, I will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of the journal (I can hardly believe it!) and the publishing of over 150 pieces of unbelievably beautiful writing from around the world! What would happen if, one day thousands of pieces of writing were published? How many voices would we hear? That’s exciting to think about!

That is exciting! And we’re excited that you will be joining the Network’s Board. Can you tell us how you view your work supporting the TLA Network?

As a writer, educator, and social justice activist, I’ve come to see myself as someone who is continually trying to uncover the truth. As women, we worry and care. As human beings, we scrutinize and explain. But when we arrive in spaces like the Network— which brings together writers and artists who share a willingness to be open, honest, trusting, attentive, caring, and receptive to others’ words and experiences—we are transformed as individuals and we are elevated as a group. I am so honored and humbled to be joining the Board. The work TLAN practitioners are engaged in continues to inspire me every day. It is my sincere hope that my background, as well as my experience advancing DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) efforts within organizations can help support the TLA Network’s mission and goals.    

Jennifer A. Minotti
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Journal of Expressive Writing
journalofexpressivewriting.com

Facilitating For Change & Community

Facilitation21Do you want to learn more about facilitating workshops, meetings, collaborations, or coaching sessions? Come join Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Joy Roulier Sawyer for “The Art of Facilitation: Facilitating for Community and Change,” June 2 – July 13. This online class also includes video-conferencing and lots of resources to give participants a rich experience of and education in effective and soulful facilitation.

As Joy and Caryn write in the class description: “We’ll explore how creating intentional communal spaces, taking an inward look, and working across vast definitions of “difference” (including race, religion, gender, class, living with ability or health challenges, and more) can help foster greater cohesion and expression in a fragmented culture. We’ll also learn how to navigate difficult situations and people more smoothly and compassionately, as well as how to joyfully sustain ourselves in our own individual TLA callings.”

Joy and Caryn also share this video about what happens in the class and who comes. Continue reading

Future Casting: an interview with Caits Meissner

Caits Meissner sat down with us before the pandemic to talk about teaching for the Network and to tell us about one of her online classes – the latest version of which launches next month. Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision, begins April 14, 2021. More here.

What do you see as the relationship of poetry to future casting, and future casting to social change?

I use future casting here in the loosest sense of the word, drawing on the simple idea that when we launch our wishes and hopes into the universe with earnest intention, they amplify. The object of devotion may be a higher power, but also may be nature, the universe, the commitment to reducing harm, a deeper sense of self love or humanity itself. 

The way I’m thinking about future casting in this course, as intentional wishing and visioning that extends beyond the self, is a different energy than protest, and railing against what is—a necessary strategy, but not the only one. 

I’m thinking of future casting as an impassioned call to forces beyond the human realm to support our collective betterment, to protect who is vulnerable, to uplift who is ignored, to create harmony and equity and peace and justice and environmental responsibility. To call in the gods or ancestors or universal light energy or natural intelligence to give us the strength and tools to help dream and build a better world. 

What motivated you to put together such a visionary class?

My own desperation for something different drove me forward. I have always been drawn to resistance art, and while I find that incredibly important, in this terrifying era we’ve entered, I also craved something more—hopeful may the wrong word—perhaps more fitting is visionary. The concept of emergence in social change began to stir me up. 

It was Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy that really got my gears turning about a course that tied together inspiration from a wide array of sources to propel us into the possibilities for healing our society. Brown looks at biomimicry, speculative fiction, posts tarot cards on her social media—she is ideating new social justice practices from an amazing mix of movement work, divination, nature and art. 

I am certain that hidden in the natural intelligence of our bodies is a creative force more profound than what is easily accessible in the rigid and fast pace of modern society. I think it takes playing outside our go-to inspirations to draw up what has previously been untapped. I wanted to push myself, and others, to dream forward and innovate in our poetry practices, the way Brown is asking of those engaging justice work.

What can people expect to experience, learn, and write in this class?

There will not be much, if any soap-boxing or pontificating from me, as the facilitator. I am no expert, I am a fellow seeker. Rather than reading my thoughts and ideas on a subject, I see my role as cultivating process and possibility through curating readings. 

I want to encourage participants to listen to what their bodies reveal, and then act on their gut impulses, what pulls them towards creation in what I offer. I would also like to gently push participants past nerves or fear to try something new. Therefore, we’ll engage a large range of material in order to unlock new pathways in the brain. I encourage participants to arrive expecting to play, and to challenge themselves to write towards creating an image of a just world, rather than (always) against it.

Participants should come ready to journal in response to questions, write for 15 minutes based on sometimes strange or even silly-seeming prompts, to read about a 20 page packet each week of poems and essays, to write another poem (I suggest writing a draft in 15 minutes, but it’s up to the writer) and to post the work they’d like feedback on in the forum—1 or 2 short pieces weekly. 

How has future casting and social change spoken through your writing, and can you share an example?

I often use poetry as a space to work out questions and ideas about the world—as writers tend to. And though I write from a variety of perspectives, the lens I employ that most closely resembles future casting, for me, is gratitude. I’ve written tender praise poems for women in prison, and girls in jail (this one is a poem-comic). I am also at work on a series of more personal comic-based “pep talks” that explore what is good in daily life, not always connected to an anchored social justice issue, but for example, how I’ve pulled myself out of depression, or how to connect to a partner romantically when totally broke! 

I also have a silly personal example that illustrates the kind of, wait, huh, what just happened? Did I write that into existence? As a young poet in my early twenties I was depressed. On the train home after seeing my favorite poet at the time, Pulitzer Prize-winning Yusef Komunyakaa, I wrote a poem asking him where his gift of writing derives from, and calling out for the experience of pain in order to write like him. Of course, Yusef’s life story is incomparably more intense than my own has ever touched close to, but still. A few months later and I experienced a romantic break up that kicked the light out of me—that really awful, gutting kind of ending. And then I got a letter. I was going across the world to a writing conference, on a full scholarship, completely free. To study under Yusef Komunyakaa for two weeks.

Magic? Future casting? I don’t know. I am sparked by the ideas presented in quantum physics, and what are thoughts but energy? Maybe there is something here to be harnessed intentionally in our writing towards a better world. 

Anything else participants should know?

Yes! When you take a class with me, you invest materials that can be used to make poems for years. I am not exaggerating. Each week’s packet comes with approximately 10-15 optional prompts that can be revisited again and again (you’ll only write 1-2 poem drafts each week during the course). Erika Jeffers, who took this class with me live at Poets House over the summer wrote me a wonderful email about how she used the curriculum again to produce more work. With permission, I’ll share what she told me:

“On the last day of class, I think I mentioned to you that I was planning on taking a week off from New York and staying at a cozy house in CT to write and revisit this class syllabus and I did it in just one week! In the mornings, I tackled one week and in the afternoons, I worked through another week and I had the entire 6-week workshop experience all over again, but condensed in a week. The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I’m not just saying that, I wasn’t writing for a year before the class. I wouldn’t say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn’t really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what’s going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! Now that I’m back, I’m working on finishing up my chapbook!… Thank you soooo much! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus.”

  I’d say, like most experiences,  you get out of it what you put into it.

More on “Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision” here.