Poetry as Therapy with Rachel Mckibbens

Rachel combines her personal story with her spoken word poetry to explain how the practice of sharing written words aloud in an environment of safety, encouragement and support is an invaluable, cathartic experience of emotional and intellectual re-framing.

Rachel Mckibbens was born in Anaheim, California. She is the author of Into the Dark & Emptying Field (Small Doggies Press, 2013), Pink Elephant (Cypher Books, 2009) and Blud (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). McKibbens is a two-time New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and the 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam champion. She co-curates the monthly reading series Poetry & Pie Night with poet Jacob Rakovan in upstate New York.

Advertisements

Chrysalis is open for submissions!

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 11.16.55 AM

Chrysalis is an online, peer-reviewed, international journal that publishes critical, creative, and reflective work on the use of language arts to create personal and community change.

Dedicated to the research and practice of Transformative Language Arts (TLA), it is a foundational resource for those who are currently studying or practicing TLA; for those interested in the power of the spoken, written, and sung word to engender change in both the reader and the writer; and for those who seek to discover that power.

You are invited to submit material to Chrysalis that challenges, inspires, educates, and guides us to grow the community of Transformative Language Artists.

  • Creative writing, audio and video products (poems, short stories, essays, etc.) accompanied by a short reflective paper regarding the process of writing the piece and its relevance to the transformation of the author and/or the author’s community.
  • Narrative accounts of TLA projects in action in communities, or experiences practicing TLA alone and with others.
  • Critical writing related to the power of words, including qualitative and/or quantitative studies, and other related investigations of TLA scholarship.

Submissions are made through Submittable on the Chrysalis website. The open submissions period is November 1, 2017 – February 1, 2018.

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,

smothered)

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,

coolly.

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.

 

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.

Baggage: How I Wrote My Way Through Self Destruction

by Melissa Rose

Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.

baggage2

This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.

As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.

I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.

Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.

Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.

I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.

I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.

baggage3

After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me.  I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.

Through writing and performing my story,  I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.

Melissa 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.

 

 

Writing in concert

by Barbara Burt

I have been leading a writing workshop at my local community center. While I enjoy hearing the writing that the four members have worked on over the past week and are eager to share, I think the most fruitful part of the workshop is the prompted writing during the workshop. Often the prompt is met with moans: “I hate these introspective exercises.” “I can’t think of anything…” But invariably, within a minute or two, everyone is writing away, engrossed in their response to the question that may have made them feel a bit uncomfortable at first (although that’s not my aim).

When the time comes to share the prompted writing, at least one or two people find that there is the germ of a story to follow up on, planted in that day’s scribbling. To me, there is definite music in the quiet sound of all that thinking and writing that reminds me of playing chamber music. We are aware of each other, listening, but also intent on our own part. It happens that the music of our own writing is more meaningful, somehow, residing in the harmony of our group endeavor, whether we share it or not.

I wrote this during the most recent workshop:

Writing in Concert

We sit in folding chairs
and set our elbows on the plastic tabletop.
Its bumpy surface doesn’t slow us.
The mah-jongg game in the next room
erupts in loud laughter.
Still, we are not deterred.

Pens scratch.
Hands swish across smooth sheets,
pages are turned, paper rattles.
We hold our breath
or sigh.                                                                                                                                         Sip coffee.
Or rest our foreheads in our hands,
eyes closed, thinking.

There is companionship in writing alone
together.
Our thoughts are secret
but our output obvious.
We start together with the same prompt
then wander separate paths,
secure in the knowledge that
each step is worthy of its effort
and will be celebrated.

Celebrated, whether spoken or
silent.
Celebrated by our fellow writers
in the chamber music of creation.

The Telling Room: Proving the Power of Words

TellingRoom

Tonight, a story about Maine on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” began by claiming that Maine is the oldest and whitest state in the nation. But what may be true for the state as a whole is not true for its biggest city, Portland, home to recent immigrants and refugees from impoverished and war-torn places around the world. The children among them come with amazing stories.

Since 2005, as many as 3,500 students a year have had the opportunity to use poetry and prose to build their writing and storytelling skills at a special place called The Telling Room. Founded by three writers who believed that the power of story could change a community for the better, The Telling Room today reaches students and teachers in more than 30 Maine towns. Their paid staff of eleven, Teaching Artist in Residence, nine interns, and more than 200 volunteers provide individualized support to the young writers, some of whom are English language learners.

“The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.”

Both a physical place and a wide-ranging program, The Telling Room has been recognized with grants and awards, including a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award as one of the top twelve youth arts and humanities programs in the nation.

Every year since the beginning, The Telling Room has published an anthology of writings from that year’s group of students. Titles such as “Swimming to Safety,” “A Day in Three Worlds,” and “The Faithful Doves of My Father” illustrate the variety of experiences and perspectives found in these poems, plays, essays, and stories. As shown in the image above, this year’s anthology is entitled A Season for Building Houses.

Ask Yourself

My Inner Critic Is Not Having a Good Week

by Janet Toone

Responses to traumatic experiences produce one of three nervous system responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing. The third response, freezing, is the one response that provides survival for many children living with trauma.

One effect of freezing in response to trauma is that the developmental stage of that child becomes what is described in Internal Family Systems as an “exiled part.” For that child to be who they really are could endanger their welfare and even their life. I spent a lot of time frozen and I did not write while in a frozen state.

Keeping exiled parts silent is the job of what Internal Family Systems, developed by Richard Schwartz, calls “firefighters.” The purpose of firefighters is to reduce the feeling of shame, pain, and guilt, and most often involves impulsive behaviors including overeating, addiction, promiscuity, and workaholism. As I began the work of identifying, accepting, and nurturing my exiled parts, my personal firefighters, overeating and workaholism, went into overdrive. My internal civil wars between my firefighters and my exiled parts have at times been epic.

As I continued working on this extensive recovery process, I struggled for a long time to find safe ways for the multiple exiled stages of my childhood development to find expression and be free to emerge and exist in peace so I could begin the process of integrating. I am not sure when I realized that writing in their voices was one way to provide resilience to some of my exiled parts. One of those safe ways of letting my seven- to-nine-year-old self emerge is to write mediocre poetry with lots of rhyme on subjects significant to her experiences.

Courses on writing and writing about trauma have helped me explore this process. I am thankful for those who have read and provided feedback during this journey. My empty chair has been filled by a variety of individuals providing guidance and encouragement and has had significant symbolic meaning in this process.

My inner critic has fits regarding writing this poetry but she and I have come to an agreement that this stage of my childhood has this freedom. While my inner critic has been effectively subdued about the writing of the poetry, she is very uncomfortable with it being shared or heaven forbid published in any public form. My inner critic is not having a good week :).


“Butter, I need butter” hollered the ogre.
Midge went to the fridge and with relief
Found a small wedge of butter for him.
“This wedge of butter has a bad edge,” He squawked

Midge muttered, “I want to ask that judge
Why don’t you lock him far, far away?”

But Midge’s mother held her grudge and would
Not budge. Midge was not to utter a word.
“Oh fudge, this mess is a drudge,” muttered midge
This is another sad, bad, mad day.

Midge stepped outside the sqalid dark hovel
As a hawk hovered floating overhead
Then a butterfly fluttered by Midge’s head.
Nature would hold Midge together today.


Some stuff, if it happens often enough
Or is excessively, viciously rough and gruff
Changes the wiring in the brain and luffs one by the scruff.

Gettin in a huff will only cuff the brain like it’s been muffled.
Even if one sniffs around searchin for change stuff
It all feels like a bluff, like you’re still sittin on your duff,

Cuz there ain’t no pause button, no do overs, no backspace key
And you can wish, but wishin don’t even make pigs fly in fantasy pink skies.

 

* * *

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

NaPoWriMo

poetry

This month to celebrate National Poetry Month, poets and spoken word artists challenge themselves to write a poem a day for the entire month of April. Here is a terrific blog that features some prompts to keep you inspired for the rest of the month.

Happy Writing!