By Seema Reza
One of my favorite quotes by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, founder of the TLA Network, comes from this interview with Joy Jacobson:
“In a lot of MFA programs and writing conferences there’s a real setup for competition. I’ve been to writing conferences where everybody’s lining up with what they perceive as the best poet and vying for validation. There’s the sense that there’s just one pie and there’s so many of us; some people are just going to get bigger pieces. TLA’s answer to that is to bake more pies.”
I love quoting this. I have quoted this so many times, I think nearly everyone who has talked writing with me has heard it. I quote it on a page of this very blog. Because, yes, yes, yes! Bake more pies, make space at the table for every voice. We’ve all had that tired conversation about the ‘death of poetry’ and I think this idea is the answer to it–poetry begins to die when it is made an exclusionary practice, a privilege. Great art inspires more great art. When we welcome more people to poetry, more people keep it alive. More people write poems, more people read poems.
In a conversation with Ursula Rucker before a performance of REDBone: A Biomythography, writer and TLA Member Mahogany L. Browne said, “Before I found your work, I didn’t realize there was space for my voice in poetry.” Browne has written books, edited anthologies, founded the amazing Penmanship press, and empowers voices from all margins and corners of society. First she discovered the necessity of her own voice and then she set to work freeing the voices of others. Mirriam-Goldberg says, “For so many people who resonate with TLA, it names what they have been moving toward their whole lives as a writer or storyteller working with others around social change. individual practice dovetails with community practice. What are you doing to make and keep community and foster healthy communities?” How much poorer would the literary, art and social justice communities be if Browne hadn’t felt she could claim poetry, had instead decided to stay silent, to be an accountant?* And where would we be if we hadn’t had the opportunity to hear her?
As facilitators of TLA work, we bear witness to less literarily accomplished voices that ought to be heard. So often I hear a piece of writing in a workshop and feel an intense aha! I wish everyone could read it. But the publishing world can be stupid discouraging, especially to a novice writer who has put so much on the line by the courageous act of touching pen to paper while looking inward. Self publishing on a personal blog or on social media is an option, of course, and a solid one, but the audience is limited to an individual’s existing circle. In order to spread empathy, which I believe is one of the most essential uses of writing and reading, one has to confront the unfamiliar.
In an attempt to facilitate that, I’m proud to introduce a new section of this blog that I hope will grow and flourish and place a wide variety of voices and perspectives on the power of writing in one place: Gems from the Workshops. I hope you’ll encourage a new voice to submit writing.
*in case the IRS is reading this, there’s nothing wrong with accountants, we need accountants.
Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique multi-hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a population struggling with emotional and physical injuries. She serves as a council member-at-large for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and curates the TLA Blog.