Three Strategies for Planning a Satisfying Writer’s Road Trip by Susan Hulsebos

Pack the car for adventure, gas up, and head out to find it–that pleasurable transformation of mind and spirit, arrived at in the middle of nowhere, on a satisfying road trip. Road trips fall into two general categories: A) the pounding down the miles to a single destination travel or B) the inner calling to transformative adventure travel (which is how my writer girlfriend and I pitched the idea to our husbands last fall). Travel around the world concept flat design

In our minds, this trip would be akin to an aboriginal walkabout except that we would, for the most part, remain fully clothed, bring coolers stuffed with pre-packaged salads, gin and tonic, wine, and chicken salad cups, and have reservations in strangers’ homes via Airbnb for four nights. So, although more of an American roll-about, the religiosity of wandering as a rite of passage and transformation remained intact.

We also chose to devote some time to collaborative writing and to photograph old cars and off- road oddities.

Our journey was successful in every way because we chose to plan a few key elements. Our top three strategies were:

  • Plan to hit three states in five days, stopping wherever and whenever anything piqued our interest or when one of us had to pee. (We both have a love for off-road oddities of all sorts and drink lots of coffee.)
  • This is not a “working” trip, nor will we craft assignments for each other to complete, nor keep a schedule or daily agenda. We met to brainstorm a list of supplies to have on hand for spontaneous art-making or photo shoots. We had a few half-formed scenarios in mind. I had made some art stickers to “install” along our trail. The fact that my buddy insisted on bringing duct tape, rope and a ladder was a bit scary.
  • Pick a general writing game to have on hand for long stretches of open road, or when cranky. In the way that all great parties have great hosts, we chose Basho, 17th century Haiku master and author of the party-poem form, Renga, to be our writing coach. We both love collaboration and concrete nouns. There are many forms of Renga, a linked verse poem, which was passed between guests at drinking parties and plays according to general rules such as who writes how many lines and some prescribed references to season and moon. Since our trip was scheduled for October, we chose a traditional Autumn Kasen Renga. Our template can be found in the following link, along with other seasonal forms: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/thecageunhitched/RengaFrm.htm

I find casual collaborative writing with friends, using forms such as Renga, a very pleasurable way to practice Transformative Language Arts. It is far less strenuous than full on therapeutic personal journal writing, which I also practice daily. Renga is very well suited for small groups in person or online. However, having practiced Renga both online and in person, I highly suggest the party or social gathering format. When everyone is linking verses while in each other’s company, mutual experiences and shared environment add a special cohesiveness to the images. The final piece then stands as the lived expression of the occasion in much the same way abstract impressionist painters created works that imaged their lived experience while painting the canvas.

What follows are excerpts from different sections of linked verses written collaboratively on our last road trip. Again, these verses were not written with publication in mind; however, that could happen in the future. The verses hold impressions, associations, daydreams, and humor channeled on the open road in the voices of two writing friends and the road itself, who began to speak somewhere on day three:

a cello slides the black notes of Metallica
through the legs of market patrons buying produce

“Are you from Arizona?
I lived there 12 years and left”
the summer moon sticks to everything

that winter before my mom died
she made my dad fill the Christmas tree with angels

lying on the thin layer of snow
we flapped our arms and legs until the black dirt showed
“Look” you said “snow demons”
__________________________________

Driving away in my Chevy
I’m not even sure that I said good bye

Arriving in Bisbee, lightening cracks the sky over the
metal municipal bus, tiki theme, our nights’ rental
we paid 88 bucks for this?

One final thought, plans are underway to write the Kansen Renga form, the spring form, perhaps on a backpacking road trip. This just might evolve as a quarterly, seasonal writing journey. Why not plan a collaborative writing trip of your own making?

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

Callid Keefe-Perry Reflects on Service, Change, and New Vision

maxresdefaultFrom 2009 – 2013, Callid Keefe-Perry served as coordinator of the TLA Network, transitioning in 2013 to chair the TLA Network Council, our leadership group. In the last year, Callid has worked closely with the council on strategic planning and on training our new chair, Emilee Baum. Here he shares his thoughts about his journal through TLA Network land, and in a beautiful way to transition again, he may be leaving the council, but he’ll also be one of our keynoters at the 2015 Power of Words conference.

On Nov. 1, 2009 my wife Kristina and I began as Coordinators-in-Training under Scott Youmans. Having first been workshop facilitators and panelists in the 2007 Power of Words Conference we were excited to join in forwarding the work of an organization full of folks that seemed to be a welcoming community. We eagerly began to learn of the history of the organization and help where we could. On 2/17/10 we first served as the coordinator of the network on a Council Call. It would be the beginning of years of connection to a powerful and inspiring web of artists, seekers, and agents for change and healing.

In the years that followed things were not always easy. In 2010 I began with a healthy balance in the bank. By 10/23/13, our lowest financial point, we were deep in the red. However, even at that most trying of moments we still held out for some hope and tried to imagine a way forward. Today that same bank account is very healthy again, we have no outstanding debt, and for the first time ever in the history of the organization we have agreed to become the employer of an executive director. But finances are hardly the only ways that things have grown.

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Callid passing on the TLA Network coordinator to Deb Hensley in 2013 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia

When I came on we didn’t have the ability to update our own website, needing to go through a contractor for every change. Now we not only have an easily updateable site but an integrated membership system with more features possible than we had even considered before. Between then and now we added not only TLA certification, but also Chrysalis, and online classes, neither of which existed when I started. As of tonight we have over 160 active members, a number up from the 87 when I began and far from the 36 we had at our lowest point. Yes, things certainly have changed, and while I’ve been proud to see it happen I can hardly claim personal responsibility.

Outside of the odd late night Power of Words event I can rarely point to moments that something happened specifically because I came to some rescue. I did what I could when I could, but truly, if it were not for the unflagging support and energy of others next to nothing could have been accomplished. Since I began more than 30 people have served as members of the Leadership Council, and many times that more have helped out with things at the Power of Words and in One City One Prompt. I’ve been able to be part of more than 100 Council Conference Calls and graced by the readings of 200 opening and closing Council poems. I’ve been able to develop relationships that I cherish and hope to maintain for years to come.

Kristina Keefe-Perry, and past council member Suzanne Adams holding Kristina and Callid's then-baby (and first TLA baby!) Nahar.

Kristina Keefe-Perry, and past council member Suzanne Adams holding Kristina and Callid’s then-baby (and first TLA baby!) Nahar — all happening at the Power of Words conference at Goddard College in Vermont

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Emilee Baum

Ever since the Transformative Language Arts Network grew from Caryn Mirriam-Golderg’s inspired vision, its success has always been a result of those willing to give their time and energy to a project broad in scope and broader in heart. As I found my time increasingly limited I knew I could not see things through to their needs. Luckily, Emilee Baum has found her way to us and so it is with incredible gratitude and hope that I leave you all. In the past 6 years there were months that went by with only 3 or 4 people on Council calls. Now our numbers are greater and you all are about to have a chair with a vision and energy that will be put to great use in the next stage of maturation and focus. I’m grateful to leave this way and with the Network in such great health. Thanks to each of you for your contributions to that, and I look forward to seeing you in August.

Making the Leap into the Work You Love with Scott Youmans

Youmans_2012March_SmallScott Youmans knows his way around Right Livelihood, having left a lucrative career in the corporate world for the work of his heart, which turned out to be its own winding rock trip. He’s also a superb facilitator of helping others find not just their dream work, but how to make their present work richer with meaning and joy. Here’s an interview on his upcoming online class, “Making the Leap into the Work You Love,” which runs June 29 – August 9. Sign up before June 10 for the Summer Buzz sale and save 10%.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: What in your life led you to design and develop this class?

Scott Youmans: Over a decade ago, when I facilitated the first incarnation of Making the Leap into Work You Love, I was in the midst of transitioning out of the corporate world and into something … unknown. I was about to complete my Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts, and at the same time leaving my full-time job to start a web consulting business. The thoughts and emotions were swirling: fear and uncertainty, joy and curiosity. What would happen next? How would I make a living doing what I loved on this new path?

In the midst of all of this, the TLA Network had come into being, and we noticed that our members were interested in learning more about the practice of Right Livelihood, and in particular, many of us were asking, “how do I make a living doing what I love?” The Network began to consider how we might create space for practitioners to approach this question. Drawing from the whole of my life experiences, including experiential workshops and my own writing practice, certain threads––poems, exercises, videos––began to tie together to help guide me in exploring answers to this question. It was easy to see how these could serve others on the journey. After a little encouragement from the chair of the Network, I set about building this class to be part of an early Power of Words Conference. It has since become a recurring staple of the Network’s offerings.

CMG: What can people expect from this class?

acrobatic_shadows_croppedSY: At its heart, this class is a journey into one’s self. My hope is that it is a gift, a space for being and becoming, with a focus on career and right livelihood. Each week will have a primary focus and exercise, along with accompanying readings, videos, and activities. The participants will form a community around the course, offering feedback and support, and asking for support in return. The class will begin by examining each participant’s journey by looking at the choices and beliefs that brought us to this place and time. We’ll then begin crafting a vision, informed by our past, and rooted in our heart’s desires. The class will end with specific community-supported steps to advance our vision.

CMG: How does this focus on the leap into the work you love manifest in your own life, art and work over the years?

SY: That word, leap, has a certain ring to it in my mind. When I first left my job in the corporate world, I imagined myself leaping off of a spinning carousel. I had a belief that the carousel was built by someone else, that it was spinning too fast to see any other path, and that I had to stay on it for survival. Leaping off of the carousel meant leaving the security of a full time job with benefits, it meant leaving a career path that seemed inevitable.

Since leaping, both professionally and in offering this class, I think I’ve been able to hold onto the possibility of finding a way to be in the world that allows me to share my gifts in a healthy and fulfilling way. By holding on to this possibility, I haven’t really stopped leaping. I continue to find enjoyable ways of earning a living that meet my needs in that moment.

Not everyone has a job that they love. I know many people whose jobs merely facilitate their passions, whether it’s their family, a hobby, or a side business. In many cases, to fully leap into this other hobby or side business may not be healthy, but it may one day be sustainable. Often, these extracurricular professions provide the joy and satisfaction that can sustain someone through their workday worlds.

Primarily, this focus means that I keep the idea of “work I love” present in my heart. I use it both to seek the work that I love, and to make the work that I’m doing loveable, or worthy of love. How I show-up at work, the tone I set, the language I use, impacts both my job and the work environment of everyone around me. If I make my job one that I love, then perhaps those around me will be able to better love their jobs too.

One of the ways this focus has manifest in my life has been though my most recent job change and move. There was a time when I recognized that my current job wasn’t as healthy for me as I wanted it to be. For example, I worked alone at home and I missed having daily in-person connections with my co-workers. From this realization I began to imagine and to write about ways I could earn a living using all of my gifts. I created an elaborate plan––we’ll call it “Plan A”––to transition into Unitarian Universalist Ministry. It would take six years of part-time education along with internships and credentialing while I continued working. A year into this plan, I was laid off, disrupting everything and creating an immediate need for income. Now, I also had Plan B, which involved a degree and credentialing in the field of Marriage and Family Counseling, and Plan C, which was to work for a company where I could combine my technology skills and my spiritual path. The layoff forced me to look again for companies that matched Plan C, and this time, within a month I found a job with a company whose mission is to disseminate spiritual wisdom. No extra degree needed. No additional credentialing. From this experience, I learned to not overcomplicate things. Sometimes holding on to a vision means letting it go. You might just find that you get something better than you could have imagined.

Learn more about Scott’s upcoming class here, and consider registering by June 10 to save 10%.

Let’s Talk TLA with Z. Hall – A Free Teleconference Interview, Q&A & Poetry Reading, moderated by Kelly DuMar

When I met Z. Hall at the Power of Words Conference in 2015 in Kansas City, she was new to TLAN, but sitting cheerfully at the volunteer desk greeting people. After our short conversation, I wanted to learn more about her advocacy for public dialogue through Salon~360, based in Kansas City. On Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 8 – 9:15 pm (Eastern), 7-8:15 p.m. (Central), we’ll all have the chance to talk with Z during our free, bi-monthly teleconference, Let’s Talk TLA, which everyone is welcome to join.

Z. HallZ. is a Poet, Artist, Scholar and Executive Director of Salon~360, a monthly event that brings together artists, business people, scholars, activists, and community members in dialogue around issues faced by our society. Z. fosters the power of creating what she calls “360 degree public conversations,” believing that true understanding requires examining issues through integrated, public dialogue. Her interests include culture, art, race, identity, media, TV and radio, film, theater performance, rhetoric, and intersections of these.

During our teleconference, we’ll explore Z.’s thoughts on why open dialogue is important, what we can expect when it does not exist, and how society benefits when it does.

What is Salon 360?

Events are held at restaurants or venues, supporting locally owned businesses in the Kansas City region. Like the salons of France and like many in-home congregating spaces outside the Western world,” Z says, “Salon~360 is a hub of artistic, intellectual development, and cultural exchange, hosting local and international guests and participants.

For instance, in Salon~360’s inaugural 2015 season, themes explored included: forgiveness, anger, suicide, humane capacity, and grief. The first year closed with a benefit show based on its five themes. Salon~360’s second season opened with the theme ‘Art Activism’ in collaboration with InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park. On Tuesday, February 23, Salon~360 will present the theme ‘Economic Liberation’ in collaboration with The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.

Salon~360, Z. says, fosters community and growth. “It’s a much-needed space for working out ideas in the public sphere that lead to cross pollination among creatives on new and collaborative projects,” she says. Her passion is creating a venue where artists, business people, activists, academics, journalists, scientists, K-12 educators, and the community gather in dialogue. Z is committed to making a safe, comfortable space for engagement with a cross-section of individuals who may have been inaccessible outside of Salon~360. “It’s an important space for civic engagement, dialogue, growth, and creativity,” Z says.

To learn more about Z. Hall and Salon~360, before or after our teleconference on Feb. 17, you can check the Decade of Light calendar for upcoming Salon~360 events, or, to see highlights of past events go to: www.decadeoflight.org > Programs > Salon~360. You can also join the Salon~360 Facebook group to meet other creatives and engage. To be included in Salon~360’s monthly Evite list, send your name and email address to: info@decadeoflight.org

I hope you’ll call into our free Let’s Talk TLA teleconference with Z. to explore “Dynamic Dialogue,” followed by a Poetry Open Mic. Everyone who participates in the teleconference is welcome to share an original poem. Whether you’re reading your poetry aloud for the first time, or you’re a seasoned reader, this is a chance to share your writing in the supportive presence of appreciative listeners. It’s a remarkably fun and moving experience. You don’t need to be a member of TLAN – this meeting is free and open to the public, and you can join from your by phone by calling 1-857-232-0155, code #885077.

Let’s Talk TLA Blog October 2015-1

Kelly DuMar, Membership Chair, TLAN, Let’s Talk TLA Moderator

Living Out Loud: An Interview with Regi Carpenter

964428_472055702879249_308558429_oRegi Carpenter is soon to teach an online class for the TLA Network called “Living Out Loud: Healing Through Writing and Storytelling.” The class will take participants on a journey through writing and storytelling toward greater gifts in finding and keeping our true voices. Here’s a short interview Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg did with Regi about the class:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): What catalyzed you to design this online class? 

Regi Carpenter (RC)IMG_0946: I taught another online class for TLAN last year and absolutely loved it. IN fact, several of the people from that class have become friends and co-collaborators. So when the opportunity to do another class came around, I was eager to do it. This time I want to create a class that allows people to hear, speak and listen to the power of their inner voice and their speaking voice. As a storyteller I know how powerful the spoken word can be. I want to help other artists discover their power  when they give they give voice to their creativity.

CMG: What can participants expect in this class?

We can all expect to grow, to share, to experiment, to take risks and to learn how to witness other people’s creativity in a fun, stimulating and supportive environment.We can also expect to learn how to listen to and voice our creative works out loud.

CMG: How did you learn more about finding the courage to live out loud, and what does living out loud look like in your life?

RC: This is a good question. Although I have been a performer since my twenties I think I used performing as a way of shielding myself from true intimacy and sharing. I used it as a way to be LOUD!!! Over the last decade I have been focusing on removing the affectations of performing in order to truly share myself with my listeners or readers. I am most interested in being present, being aware and available to my creativity and to the creativity of others. Now the Living Out Loud means being willing to share and speak who I am and what I yearn and long for and celebrate out loud rather than hiding behind a piece of paper, a costume or a mask.

CMG: What do you see as the connection between personal courage and callings, and how we interface (or could interface) with our communities, justice, and larger social change?

RC: I believe living according to one’s convictions is a powerful and liberating place to experience life. When we have the courage to truly be ourselves and serve others through our work we can change our lives and the lives of others. I believe it also allows us to connect with others who are unlike ourselves and see compassionately into their lives and experiences. In this way, we set aside socially constructed barriers and create authentic communities and friendships and families that serve all rather than some.

CMG: How does someone find and keep the courage to live out loud?

RC: I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ book “Horton Hears a Who.” Cindy Lou Who shouts out, “I am here. I am here. I am here. I am here,” and ” A person’s a person no matter how small.”We get the courage to be ourselves one step, one word, one sentence, one choice, one moment at a time. Living out loud isn’t a faucet that suddenly spouts water powerful. It begins as a trickle that grow into a stream and finally a steady river with a course and a power all its own. We get courage by being ourselves and sharing that self with others no matter how weird, funny or painful that may be.

Regi Carpenter is an internationally known spoken word artist, author and educator. She has been performing her stories of small town life in northern New York for over twenty years. A featured teller at many festivals throughout the United States she conducts workshops and classes fro people of all ages who want to learn to write and tell stories from their own lives. Her book, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood will be published by Familius Publishing in Sept. 2016. Regi also teaches storytelling at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.

 

“Your Memoir as Monologue” and the Creative Life with Kelly DuMar

kelly_new_head-copy-225x300Kelly DuMar – who is teaching the online class “Your Memoir as Monologue” starting Jan. 4 —  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. Her 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, and a chapbook, All These Cures. 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. Here’s a brief interview she did with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): What inspired you to put together this class?

Kelly DuMar (KD): Ten years ago, I founded a play festival for women playwrights. Not just experienced playwrights, but also inviting women who might never have written anything for the stage before. Since then, Our Voices has grown from an evening of staged readings of Boston area women playwrights to a day-long workshop which has supported nearly a hundred women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. Every year, I wake up the day after producing Our Voices and think – it can’t get better than this one. Every year, as they’re saying goodnight, the playwrights tell me I must be super exhausted, but I’m not tired. I’m so filled with energy after this jam-packed twelve-hour day. I didn’t spend energy, I created it. Producing Our Voices lets me spend my day listening to women show and tell their unique stories as creatively as they can in a safe, supportive environment. I love how one participant last year describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:

“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness.  I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice.  Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”

CMG: How would this class potentially benefit students?

KD: We need to re-learn how to be playful as adults. In my training as a creative arts counselor, I discovered the healing power of imagination. I saw how the joy and power of dramatic play could help people heal, grow and change.  The dynamic skills I learned and practiced as a psychotherapist have helped me grow as a creative writer and I use them to help writers of all kinds. My workshops involve unique, playful, surprising ways to evoke storytelling. I believe workshop experiences should be safe places for self-expression where feedback is non-judgmental and encouraging.

Kelly at the Power of Words conference while Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, ronda Miller, Teri Grunthaner, and Seema Reza look on

Kelly at the Power of Words conference while Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, ronda Miller, Teri Grunthaner, and Seema Reza look on.

It’s empowering to believe we’re creative. I grew up thinking I wasn’t creative and wishing I was. It was only when I took risks to get out of my comfort zone that I opened the door to a creative life. So many people think they aren’t creative, but everyone is. Creative energy gets blocked for a lot of reasons. It can be unblocked pretty easily in a playful, fail-safe environment.

The healing power of writing is real and accessible. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.

We need support to grow as writers. A creative life is risky business, and every writer needs a support system to thrive. I wrote my first short play when I was forty years old without any guidance. I soon found a playwriting group in Boston, Playwrights’ Platform. I was afraid to open my mouth for the first few meetings, but Playwrights’ Platform soon hurled me into writing, critiquing, directing and producing plays and theatre festivals. Our small first steps can have a big impact.

Collaboration is rewarding, and writing for the stage requires it. Writing can be lonely. Writing for the stage gets us away from our desk, into a theatre, and into a collaborative relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage:

“One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage. So much more gratifying than slogging alone through a three hundred page novel.”

CMG: How has doing this practice helped you develop your art of words, and a better sense of how to live meaningfully?

KD: I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern.

CMG: What do you love most about this work?

KD: The invitation to enchantment. The theatre, darkened, the stage lit. Whether I’m in the audience or behind the scenes, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question explored, What if. . . is my invitation to change others and be change myself, through storytelling.

CMG: How did you find your way into your TLA passions?

Kelly at THEATRE EXPO 2015KD: As a psychodramatist and playback theatre artist, playwright and poet, I naturally gravitate to making connections with other writer/artists/helpers. Psychodrama is the most powerful method I’ve encountered of helping people use imagination to grow. I grew up writing and wanting to be a writer, but chose to pursue graduate school as a “helper” instead. Soon, my training in psychodrama gave me access to my imagination, and it was only then, I feel, that I really began writing what I call my truth and beauty.

Find out more about Your Memoir as Monologue: How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance at http://tlanetwork.org. Special holiday discount if registered by 1/1/16.

Interview with Denise Low: The Writer in the Public Square

pfr_-_Denise_bw_2k_12-29_t300Denise Low, second Kansas Poet Laureate, had a little chat with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, third poet laureate, about the writer in the public square. Denise is teaching an online class for the TLA Network starting Nov. 9 and running until Dec. 20, “The Word Artist in the Public Square,” focusing on being a writer for life. She’ll be covering public reading basics, publication and personal balance, reviews, blogs, blurbs, conferences, workshops, residencies, contests, grants, and building community.

Denise Low is an award-winning author of 25 books of prose and poetry, including Jackalope (short fiction, Red Mountain Press); Mélange Block (poetry, Red Mountain Press); Ghost Stories (Woodley Press, a Ks. Notable Book; The Circle -Best Native American Books); and Natural Theologies: Essays (Backwaters Press). She has British Isles, German, Delaware (Lenape/Munsee), and Cherokee heritage. She edited a selection of poems by William Stafford in an edition with essays by other poets and scholars, Kansas Poems of William Stafford (Woodley). Low is past board president of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs. She blogs, reviews, and co-publishes Mammoth Publications. She teaches professional workshops nationally as well as classes for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Her MFA is from Wichita State University and PhD is from the University of Kansas. More at www.deniselow.net, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/denise-low, http://deniselow.blogspot.com, and www.mammothpublications.com

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): How did you learn to be a writer in the public square?

Denise Low (DL): Oh, this is a long, long story. Before I was 30 years old, the editorship of the nationally known University of Kansas journal Cottonwood Review became vacant, and I volunteered. Volunteer work is a great starting point. The quick, on-the-job experience was invaluable. They had 35 subscribers, and when I left, we had 100s, including libraries. I found grants for our income stream, and I had added book publications. I learned that reliability, clean writing, and meeting deadlines were seriously important. Since that analog cut-and-paste era, I have adapted to digital media, but the basics of public interaction remain—be dependable, consider audience and polish style, and be on time.

CMG: What gifts and challenges are there to being “out there” as a writer?

DL: Gifts are many—self-awareness, great friends, appreciating enduring works of art, travel (both physical Low.crop.12.smallishand intellectual)—I love the writing life. Writers are my favorite people, because of their interest in history, science, gossip (really, human behavior anecdotes), cultural geography, and more. Yes, writers can be a tad egotistical, but heck, they are worth it. The main challenge is self-absorption. The good writer has a sense of what appeals to an audience, not just what is fun to write. I’m working with a new fantasy writer, self-taught, who loves to spin out his stories. Now he wants to publish. I feel a bit sad that his joy in creating tales will be tempered by demands of writing—point of view, grammar, character development, and so forth. Yet these technical issues make our work comprehensible to others. Also, when he publishes, he will have to promote his works. Now writers have to know how to prepare press kits, approach reviewers and media, schedule readings, and so much more. Cutbacks at most presses plus the rise of self-publishing make it necessary for writers to generate their own publicity. Further, years ago it was permissible at a book launch for writers to mumble passages from their books and get drunk at receptions. Now author presentations are quite professional, often including PowerPoints. This is an exciting time to be an author, and also a challenging one.

CMG: How do you balance your writing time with putting yourself out there in community?

DL: Writing is a solitary, self-reflective act. Paradoxically, we introverted writers participate in so many community activities— readings, conferences, workshops, reviews, blogs, social media commentary, residencies, and more. Keeping a schedule helps me out. I divide my time into blocs for book biz, revision, and drafting new work. Usually, I spend Mondays on promotion and other business, plus office management. Keeping a fairly clean workspace helps me stay productive. Yes, I have lost checks and lots more in piles of papers. Time management people advise us to schedule clean-up time, and they are right. The rest of the week I spend only an hour or so on incoming business. Then I turn to writing chores, including revisions. The end of the week is for drafting new work, my favorite. I never do business or chores on weekends. That way I truly have some quality writing time scheduled. Other people divide up their days differently. Each of us is individual, so the challenge is to find what works best. No one has the exact formula for how to write. This is the delight of the writing process.

Co-Creating A Garden of Healing Words – Over the Phone

by Kelly DuMar


Have you ever wondered – or tried to explain to others – what a Transformative Language Artist is – or does? Our recent phone conference to explore this question with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, TLAN founder, began, last Thursday evening, as dusk quietly fell outside the open windows of my home near Boston. It was 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on a lovely summer evening. Soon, voices from other time zones and homes around the US joined the call – some TLA members, some new to TLA. Once we gathered, I invited everyone to imagine we were entering this garden together for our discussion and poetry open mic.

Caryn shared her inspiration and vision for founding the Transformative Language Arts MA degree on social and individual transformation through the spoken, written and sung word at Goddard College, and later, (with other key contributors), the non-profit Transformative Language Arts Association, to sponsor the Annual Power of Words Conference and more.

Caryn described her faith in the hopeful, transformative power of telling stories – in written, spoken, and sung words. She shared her core belief that telling our stories, encouraging others to tell stories and being a non-judgmental witness for each other’s stories, is the heart and soul of what it means to be a Transformative Language Arts Practitioner.

After the interview – and before our impromptu poetry reading – one participant’s comment about her writing resonated powerfully as a core TLA idea:

I wrote myself back to life from being broken. . .

No, I wrote myself into being.

Three people had signed up to read at our poetry open mic, and one cancelled before the call. So I invited anyone on the call to share a poem, and many did, including:

Annette Billings read “Laundry,” “Brava,” and “What You Allow Lingers.”

Trinka Polite read “Caught off Guard,” and “I’m Prepared.”

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg read “Rain.”

Christine Isherwood read “I Place My Faith.”

Kelly DuMar read “Mrs. Bean’s Snow.”

Hearing everyone’s poem read after Caryn’s powerful description of TLA was deeply moving. Annette Billings generously agreed to let me reprint her poem, “Laundry,” so you can have a taste of the poetry we shared with each other in the comfortable quiet of a summer evening in the garden.

Laundry

I hang my soul’s garments outside to dry.
in the yard on a line in front of God and all
nosey neighbors, total strangers
who drive by slowly to gawk.

Deeply stained articles of my life flapping in the wind,
irregular edges, scars soaking up rays,
sewn-on patches and unmended tears
obvious to the naked eye.

I put them out there on purpose,
pin them all on the line in defiance,
string them up with premeditation,
let them fly like flags!

This I do in hopes some splintered spirit
will happen by and see how my soul’s garments
look uncannily like their own –
ones they are ashamed to show.

They will comprehend, such as they are,
my clothes are clean and worthy of fresh air and light.

May it release them, embolden them,
dare them to free their own soul’s apparel
from dark, dank places
and commit them to warm sun and crisp winds,
to drape them, in triumph, beside mine.

© Annette Hope Billings, 2013

[Reprinted by permission from the author from her collection of poetry published this past February, A Net Full of Hope.]

After our Let’s Talk TLA garden visit, I drifted off to sleep with beautiful poems and poets’ voices ringing in my ears. Strangely, a conference call, with the marvelous cadence of authentic, disembodied voices, is a natural space for deep sharing, and deep listening.

If you missed the call, we plan to hold another one in late August, with a new interview subject (TBA) and another poetry open mic. We hope you can join us then!

Here is a link to our TLAN website where you can learn more about online classes, The Power of Words Conference in September, submissions to Chrysalis, our professional journal, and membership (only $35!). Also, if you haven’t already, please like our public Facebook Page to stay in touch and share your news. https://www.facebook.com/TLANetwork
Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area who is currently Membership Chair of TLAN. Her website is http://kellydumar.com

 

Baking Pies & Introducing Gems

By Seema Reza

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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.