Workshop Inspiration

by Barbara Burt

During the Power of Words Conference early in August, Caryn Merriam-Goldberg offered a generative workshop called, “Writing the Tree of Life: Midrash to Re-Vision Our Lives.” As she explained, “Midrash is the Hebrew tradition of re-interpreting and re-visioning our guiding myths and messages to foster greater meaning, freedom, and authenticity.” After examining different examples of midrash, she invited us to consider it in our writing. For some reason, the folktale of Snow White popped into my head. This and Sleeping Beauty and all the other tales of damsels in distress have long bothered me; these girls sleep until awakened by a handsome prince’s kiss—how passive and unimaginative those heroines are! Yet, through the power of Disney and myriad children’s books, they are role models buried deep in many young women’s consciousness.

I believe that midrash specifically refers to retelling or commentary on the Torah; Snow White is no sacred text but it does carry cultural weight. I decided to try a retelling of Snow White in a poem. Other workshop participants created awe-inspiring poems and stories—all in a scant half hour, once again illustrating the creative power of silently writing together.

Here is the result of my effort, with a bit of editing since the workshop.

Snow White Remembers

I was not beautiful.

That is an embellishment added by the Grimms,

who couldn’t imagine a commonplace heroine.


And my stepmother didn’t really hate me.

She read rebellion behind my solemn stare,

resentful questions in the crick of my eyebrow.

Because she recognized a vestige of the same in her

(tamped down,


She had to murder it in me.

But I do not know if she poisoned that apple pie on purpose.

She was a terrible cook.


I’d known those seven woodsmen since childhood.

Caught in a thunderstorm, I came upon their clearing

and sheltered in their cabin.

It was strewn with books left by an unnamed professor long ago.

He’d tried solitude on a summer sabbatical,

only to flee, books in his wake.


As I grew, I escaped to the those bookshelves

when I could,

drinking in word of other lands, other lives.

The loggers paid no mind to my visits.

They were busy in the woods most days.

And I was neat, straightening and dusting

the rows of books.

I left bouquets of wildflowers and pine boughs on the table.


On the day the illness came upon me,

I ran to the cabin after the compulsory midday meal at home.

(Apple pie to finish.)

I was sixteen and sick of arguing,

and the cabin had an extra bunk where I could stay.

I chose a stack of books from the shelves

and buried myself under blankets.

In a day or two I could keep food down again.


She doesn’t want to be found, said the loggers,

turning away searchers at their door.


A year went by

as I read through the pile

until few titles remained.

I was restless;

my attempts to help with cabin upkeep

bored me.

Chipmunk chatter was no longer delightful.

Almost a housewife, I was no longer just playing house.

The loggers were kind

but their table talk described saws and stands of trees

and they were snoring by dusk.


So when they spoke of a young man new in town,

I listened.

He is kind to us, they said.

He fingers tunes on his fiddle.

He carries a well thumbed journal

with poems and colored sketches of birds.

Shall we invite him here? they asked.

Perhaps, I said,


But I was fire inside.


That day I entwined flowers in my braids,

chose my eyelet blouse,

and rehearsed clever conversation.

I spied him walking up the path,

deep in thought,

and was pleased by his brown curls and open expression.

Just as he knocked, I opened the door,

and I kissed him.


Your Memoir As Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance

Don’t miss this 6 week class that will empower you to share your story on stage!

“There’s beauty and meaning to mine from your life story, and this workshop will help you artistically express what you’ve overcome and achieved, and creatively share your experience to benefit others through the medium of theatre. You’ll learn how to write successful dramatic monologues based on your life that are personally meaningful, emotionally satisfying, and relevant and engaging for an audience. In class, through thematic writing prompts and creative exploration, you’ll develop your ordinary and extraordinary life experiences into powerful, dramatic monologues that can be performed – by you or an actor – with universal appeal. In class meetings will present elements of dramatic structure and explore the artistic qualities necessary for an effective dramatic monologue. We’ll explore the role of conflict, plot, communicating subtext, voice, narrative, and the importance of set-up. New writing will be generated in and out of class, shared in class and aspects of revision will be presented and practiced. Beginning and experienced writers in any genre are welcome!”

Beginning September 6th

Click here to register and learn more about the class!

About the Teacher:

kellyKelly is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who loves leading new and experienced writers through dynamic writing exercises and meaningful sharing that leave you feeling engaged, intrigued and surprised by the depth of your experience. Kelly’s award winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn, Heuer,Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s also author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget – The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. Kelly’s poems are published in many literary magazines, and her award-winning poetry chapbook, “All These Cures,” was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over a decade, and she founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year.  She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild and the TLA Council, and she facilitates Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner. Her website is

When Writing Doesn’t Make Your Heart Sing

by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was my dream job. I mean, come on! Getting paid to research the life of a historian and prolific writer while looking out over Lake Champlain from the picture window of said dynamic woman’s former home? Writing up her story, choosing the visual pieces from her myriad scrapbooks, and designing the layout of the book? And having my name on a published book at the end of it? The freelance gods had smiled on this writer-graphic designer-history buff.

For two years I worked on this project and loved every minute of it. Well, almost every one. As any writer will tell you, pursuing our craft is actual pretty tortuous. Most sane people would wonder why we do this to ourselves — over and over again. Richard Hass puts it this way: “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”

And so, we keep writing in order to be in that “tolerable state,” if only for a few minutes. (Case in point: I started writing this post barely an hour after finishing my weekly column. It had, for some reason, taken me far longer than necessary this morning. I just wanted to be free of it, get it off to my editor. But no sooner had I grabbed some lunch, my fingers were once again hungry for the keys, and so here I am.)

The truth is, at moments throughout that two years of putting the book together, I would find myself feeling down. Tearful even, especially when I was writing the text (as opposed to doing the layout work). I wondered what my problem was — I was, after all, doing something I had dreamed of doing for, what? Ever? So, what was it?!

When I first became a columnist for my local paper (another dream come true), after a couple years of writing about my community and the go-getters within it on a weekly basis, I found myself feeling the same kind of yearning. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy writing for a living, far from it. It was that I needed something else, in addition, in my writing life.

Then I realized: I missed heart-writing. Writing from the heart.  

Once in awhile, in my column, I would decide to write about something that was important to me, something that pulled me emotionally in one way or another. I would always write these off-the-cuff, no interview or research, just me speaking from a place of personal truth. Heart-writing. While I would feel slightly raw and vulnerable when I clicked “Send” to my editor, I would also feel refreshed, more alive. And inevitably the feedback from these types of articles would be overwhelmingly positive. People would email me or even sometimes approach me at the coffee shop to thank me.

My other columns, the more fact-based ones, were, I came to call them, head-writing. This historical book was also head-writing.

Heart-writing versus head-writing.

Although I continued to journal all through this book project and once in awhile made time to write a personal blog post, I missed personal essay and memoir writing. Due to time constraints in the second year of the book, I’d also decided to call an end to my heretofore weekly sacred circle writing group where, although I was facilitating, I would write along with the participants from the deep soul-searching prompts. I missed communing with my heart.

I am a TLA practitioner — for others and for myself. I feel I was born to be. I need to write

On those days when I want to cry from frustration over an essay, article, or memoir section and my husband asks me again why I do this [to myself], I tell him, as I have told others over the years, I can’t not do it. I have to. I have to have “just written” from the heart over and over again.

So, while I will continue to Head Write for a living as needed, I will make sure that my heart gets a say too, and as often as possible. Because that is what makes my soul sing. And if my words give voice to another person’s soul, then I have done my true work.

joannatebbsyoung2Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA, a graduate of Goddard College’s Transformative Language Arts concentration, is a freelance writer and Expressive Writing facilitator and coach living in Rutland, Vermont. Her book, Lilian Baker Carlisle, Vermont Historian, Burlington Treasure: A Scrapbook Memoir, was published in June 2017 and is available through Joanna blogs at and Her column can be found at

More Power of Words Conference Photos


Saturday night began with Improvilooza! TLA’s executive director Teri Lynn Grunthaner warmed up an assembled group of improv volunteers with a game of Radio, which had everyone in stitches. To play it, you improvise the feed from a radio station when the mike comes to you. These players broadcast everything from preaching to traffic reports to classical music to static.

Caryn gets thanked

A surprise addition to the program was a video and gift presentation thanking Caryn Merriam-Goldberg for her many years of dedication contributing to the founding and growth of the TLA Network and the Power of Words Conference. Here Caryn is modeling a beautiful shawl, which was one of the gifts presented to her.

Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac

Saturday night’s keynote speaker was Abenaki storyteller (and small press publisher and writer) Joseph Bruchac, who held us spellbound with his telling of “Trickster’s Truth and Lies.” Joe accompanied his storytelling with hand drum and wooden flute, transporting us to a different time and place.

What's Next?

As we thought about leaving the conference and going back to our own communities, this panel, moderated by Seema Reza, explored “What’s Next? Taking TLA into Tomorrow.” Panelists differed in their emphasis but agreed on the need for TLA practitioners to reach out to empower those whose voices are not being heard in America. From second on the left: Lovella Calica of Warrior Writers spoke of her work with military veterans and their families; Susan Bennett-Armistead, University of Maine professor, told of the need for early literacy training for all children and for adults who lack literacy; and Joseph Bruchac, native American author and storyteller, told of his work with incarcerated individuals, including bringing his Skidmore College students into prisons to work with prisoners. 

It was clear by the end of the conference that there is indeed great power in words — written, drawn, spoken, sung, danced — and in this time of division in our country, giving more people more power through telling their stories is one way to bridge differences. We have a duty as artists to express and create, but perhaps we also have a duty as citizens to create space for understanding. Transformative Language Arts can do that.

Many thanks to all the workshop presenters who generously shared their wisdom and experience with all of us. I’m already looking forward to Power of Words 2018 — October 11 – 14 in beautiful Vermont!

Creating Space

by Melissa Rose

The writing process can be ritualistic, so setting the space is important.

Keep it consistent. Keep it holy.

I set the timer. Write the prompts on the white board while pictures of Frida Khalo gaze down at a table I have covered in stray paper, pens and composition notebooks.

Every week I lead a writing workshop with female trauma survivors. The format is simple: One hour of writing. Your time. Your space. I provide prompts that encourage introspection and self-care, but the direction the participants choose to take those prompts are unique as they are.

What began as a simple routine has quickly transitioned into a life line. Women who have curiously come one week now come every week. Diving deeper into themselves, discovering more with each session and unearthing more possibilities with every word they write.

Giving oneself permission to do something healthy, even for one hour, has slowly become a reason to give oneself permission to do something healthy for another hour. A reason to speak up in situations where they wouldn’t have before. A reason to forgive. A reason to tell their story. A reason to love themselves more.

Writing may be the medium we use here, but what we are creating is sacred space. Collectively, through sharing the space we have conjured, we are tapping into something magical. The strength of creative energy. The spell of communal healing.

Creating space, for me, is such an integral part of TLA. It is the equivalent to turning the soil, preparing it for the seeds. I now find myself just as excited to lead the workshop every week and contribute to that space. To understand that it is not only the participants who benefit from this experience, but I as a practitioner.

Together, we have learned that we cannot heal alone.


is the little ghost

hiding under your tongue.

A miracle you mutter under

your breath

Afraid you will jinx its magic

Mind over matter

Whole life preparing you for this

You will now show your cells

Life is worth living.


is the the voice that reminds you to rest.

The whisper that challenges you

to take a step back.

The gently falling rain on the roof

above your head.

The sound of growth.

The promise of a million new lives.

Healing is what happens when you finally put yourself first.

It is the wound that knows exactly what to do

when you give it the chance.

The burn that saves you

from infection.

The silent pulse

only you can feel within yourself.


in your empty

there is still space to put your hope.

The seed that is sheltered by will

and soil.

The dirt beneath you

you are not ready to die in.

Swallow this spring.

Let it fill you like a sunrise.

You are only just beginning. 




melpromo4Melissa Rose is a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.


POW! Immersed in the Power of Words

Storytellers — singers, poets, writers, actors — the buildings at Ferry Beach are full of talking, music, dancing as the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference gets underway. Here are a few photos to transport you there:

Arriving at POWFriday was rainy. We dodged puddles and huddled on porches as we waited for the conference to begin.

True Story Theater True Story Theater of Boston opened the conference with a wonderful playback theater presentation. The topic was stigma, and five or six conference members shared examples of the pain that stigma caused to them or someone close to them. After the personal telling, the troupe acted out (played back) an improvised drama based on the personal story.

Mantra Singing for AllSaturday morning was filled with workshops, all enticing. A small group gathered for Barb Asen’s workshop “Love Is all there Is: Mantra Singing for All” — a calm way to start a hectic day. Here’s Barb listing to the vibration from the voices as a song ends.

Susan Bennett-ArmisteadSusan Bennett-Armistead gave a keynote address at noon about the importance of reading aloud, “Read it again! Read it again! How Read Aloud Builds Brains and Changes the World.” Here she is showing her five-year-old’s “literate” scribbles, already demonstrating an understanding of many conventions of western writing.

Now the sun is out! The conference continues; connections, learning, discovery, and sharing abound. More to follow in the next blog post.


Deep-Sea Dive with Words

By Diane Glass

Spiritual directors use the power of words and images to help others develop self-awareness, a relationship with what they consider sacred, and meaning and purpose in life. Rather than “direct,” spiritual directors listen, reflect, question, and affirm, calling upon the Holy to be present in the conversation.

I describe it as deep-sea diving with words. In listening to people describe their life experience, I note words that shimmer with possibility and hint to greater depth. They serve as portals to the interior life of the person.

Let me give you examples.

*A “directee” used the word “pioneer” in one of our sessions.
“Hmmm,” I said. “What does ‘pioneer’ mean to you?”
And as the conversation continued, “How are you a pioneer?”
And, “What does this say about how you experience the sacred in your life?”

*Another directee came seeking to restore a relationship with her mother, who objected to her daughter’s lack of belief in God. Turned off by what she experienced as an abusive childhood in a fundamentalist church, the directee said she takes refuge in her garden. Our conversation took off from there.

“Describe what you mean by garden,” I said.
“What is a refuge like for you?” I asked.
“How does it soothe you?” I continued.
“How does your love of the soil connect you with others?”
“How is gardening a sacred experience?”

Her mother is an avid gardener. Equipped with some new words to use, the daughter approached her mother to talk about the gifts of the soil and the virtues of caring for it. They bonded over the earth as a sacred trust given to them and all of us.

*A third directee reported she did not like the word “God.” The God of her childhood was a judgmental, stern and punitive father. She could not imagine praying to
such an entity.

So the deep-sea diving began.
“What comes up for you when you hear the word ‘God’”?
“What words do you use to describe something that is loving, comforting and safe?”
“What experiences have you had that made you feel that way and that connected you with others?”
“What words do you use to identify what is sacred to you?”

We read poetry and Scripture that offers alternative imagery for God. Women may be attracted to God as a nurturing feminine entity, but the possibilities are unlimited. My own search for God led to envisioning the Sacred as a dance partner. Together, we create and improvise steps to a joyful and meaningful life.

So what are the jewels, the gems of the sea, we seek in using words as portals to a deeper reality?

We seek the true self apart from cultural and family expectations of who we are and how we should act.

We seek assurance that a divine spark exists within each of us, placed there by a caring creative force.

We seek deep self-understanding of our values and guiding principles, important in making life choices.

We seek a sense of belonging, that we are part of something bigger and precious.

We seek the confidence that we have what we need to be happy.

Spiritual direction is a transformational language tool for emerging from the depths of reflection and discernment with a sense of purpose and direction.

Editor’s note: This is Diane’s third blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Certificate.

dianeDiane Glass serves as a spiritual director, helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives by deep listening and companionship. She teaches at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center on the role of the body in revealing our significant life stories. In October 2015, she published a memoir, This Need to Dance: A Life of Rhythm and Resilience (Amazon).

TLA, Who Knew?

By Eila Algood

In 2010, I read about a weekly gathering of writers in the next town of Waimea on the big island of Hawai’i. I did not consider myself a writer, but decided I could go observe. I walked into the stark white room and was greeted with aloha by the eight people sitting in a circle. As I sat and listened, I felt surprisingly comfortable. I went back to the group two weeks later with a recent poem I’d written. As a Hawaiian man gave me positive, detailed feedback, I felt a deep sense of value. I became a regular to the group. A few months later they invited me to be part of their annual public reading.

I was excited to have the opportunity to share a poem. Three years of Toastmasters prepared me feel confident speaking in public. I went the extra yard and memorized my piece. When I spoke, I visually connected with the audience. Unfortunately, there was no one acting as emcee or keeping the readings on time and the scheduled two hour event became three hours long. At the next writer’s group meeting, I offered to organize a future public reading event to keep us on time. They were thrilled for the help and passed the baton to me. I decided it would run best if I was emcee and included a printed program with the writer’s names and title of the pieces they would be reading. My first crack at it was a success and I’ve been asked to lead the public readings ever since.

Two years into the writer’s group, I was asked to co-lead weekly meetings. I felt honored and enjoyed the opportunity to keep the group moving forward. I learned a lot about giving feedback, which was a key component of the group. I observed that telling someone who shared a four-page piece of his or her novel, “that was really good”, is quite useless. It is most valuable to be specific as to what works or does not work and what might make the piece more interesting or compelling. With that in mind I provide the best feedback I can and as a facilitator of the group, I ask questions to help other members define their thoughts. Ultimately, all feedback is opinion and up to the writer to use it however they want.

The group in Waimea is a forty-minute drive from my home, over a scenic, but long mountain road. In 2014 I began two writer’s groups in my small community of North Kohala on the northernmost tip of the big island of Hawai’i, which are currently active.

I’ve been thinking about going for a Master’s degree ever since I received a Bachelor of Science degree in business in 2006. The Transformative Language Arts degree offered at Goddard called to me. Rather than dive into an advance degree program, I began taking online classes at the TLA Network towards certification. I feel a kinship with the people of the TLA community. Being involved with TLA connects the dots for me of what I do as a leader of writer’s groups, a facilitator of readings by writers, as emcee of writer’s book launch events and as radio deejay. On my community radio show, Women’s Voices, I give airtime to sung and spoken words by female artists from my small community and around the world. The radio station can be streamed live on thereby connecting Kohala to other communities around the world through women’s voices and vice versa.

TLA has confirmed the value of me as writer, the varied events I mentioned and my role within them as a way to connect community members, locally and globally.

Editor’s note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.

eilaA native New Yorker, who’s now living her dream of a sustainable life in Hawai’i with wife, Holly, Eila Algood has been expressing herself through writing since childhood.  Her published works include,  “On The Road To Bliss, A Poetic Journey”, “Rhapsody in Bohemia”, pieces in Frida Magazine and Think Pink Anthology.

Making Music

by Barbara Burt

“Can You Turn a Poem into a Song?” is the title of an article I just ran across. “How hard could it be for a poet and fiction writer to turn a poem into a love song?” asks the article’s author, Desiree Cooper. She concludes that it’s “Pretty hard.”

Some of us in the TLA Network might beg to differ. The fact is, even if you don’t read notes, play scales, know chords or fingerings, you have the capacity to make music. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

We are all born with music in us; whenever we sing or play music, we unleash that expressive engine. A number of ways to make music are represented in workshops offered at this month’s TLA Power of Words Conference. Here’s a sampling:

Songwriting: The Inspiration and Acrobatics of Language — Martin Swinger shares insights and processes that lead to the creation of his quirky, one-of-a-kind songs which gain national recognition and awards for their originality. Part concert, part discussion, part hands-on exploration of language, inspiration, songwriters ‘filters’ and the prosody which makes songs SING! No songwriting experience necessary.

Soul Song for Centering: An Experiment in Creating Sacred Song — Using your name as a foundation for exploration, you will be guided to create your own personal Soul Song to sing or chant whenever you want to connect with and feel the beauty of your Soul. You will create your own meaning and intention for your Soul Song and will be gently guided to find your inner melody. Whether you’re shy or comfortable using your voice to sing, we will create a safe environment for you to find your Soul Song for Centering. No singing or musical experience needed. Bring notebook, ear buds or plugs (if you have them), and an open mind and heart. Led by Tonia Pinheiro.

Sound Puzzles, Rounds, and the Meaning of Life According to the Woodthrush — This interactive presentation showcases the culmination of one woman’s modest experiment in responding to birdsong as a unique portal to re-inhabiting her own singing voice.  Interspersed with narratives from her story, “I Shall Go Singing,” spoken against a recorded backdrop of original vocal sketches, Deb Hensley’s presentation offers listeners live performances of original songs, rounds, and sound puzzles inspired by birdsong. Audience members will be invited to learn a few of these lyrical, whimsical, and sometimes quirky “why” rounds. Deb’s story offers insight into how deep attention to sound and song in the natural world promotes access to one’s own ancestral, spontaneous, innate, and amazing natural voice, as well as a deeper understanding of ecological literacy, place, and identity.

Note that none of these workshops requires previous experience with songwriting or musical training. Yet, by the end of the workshop, some wonderful and unique musical compositions are sure to have been created. I plan to record some examples of this music-making as I attend the conference; watch for videos on upcoming blog posts.

Submit Your Work To The TLA Blog!


The TLA Blog is currently seeking submissions!

Writing for the Transformative Language Arts (TLA) blog is open to anyone. While the majority of submissions will be from members of the Transformative Language Arts Network (TLAN), this is not required.

If you are currently pursuing a certification from the TLA Network, submitting to the blog will help fulfill your requirements and connect you to the larger community of TLA practitioners!

-Share how you have used the spoken, written or sung word in your life

-Share your experience in one of the TLA Network’s online classes

-Share a piece of written, spoken or sung word and its impact on you

-Share your process of incorporating TLA into your own life


We can’t wait to read about how TLA is present in your life and work!

Please click here for the full details about submissions!