WATCH: Sparks replay-Empowering Human-Trafficking Survivors

If you missed this last Sparks meeting, watch the replay featuring an interview with special guest, Jennifer Jean, discussion, and open mic!

Jennifer Jean is a poet, educator, activist, and consummate “literary citizen.” Her debut poetry collection is The Fool (Big Table); her poetry chapbooks include: The Archivist, and In the War. Jennifer’s newest manuscript, titled Object, was a finalist for the 2016 Green Mountains Review Book Prize. Other honors include: a 2018 Disquiet FLAD Fellowship; a 2017 Her Story Is residency, where she worked with Iraqi women artists in Dubai; a 2016 Good Bones Prize; and, a 2013 Ambassador for Peace Award for her activism in the arts.  As well, her poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in: Poetry Magazine, Waxwing Journal, Rattle Magazine, Crab Creek Review, Denver Quarterly, Mud City Journal, Solstice, Pangyrus, and more. She is Poetry Editor of The Mom Egg Review, Managing Editor of Talking Writing Magazine, and Co-director of Morning Garden Artists Retreats. Jennifer teaches Free2Write poetry workshops to trauma survivors, and she teaches writing at Boston-area universities.

Jennifer Jean’s website for more information is: http://www.fishwifetales.com

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Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

My Journey From Marine to Actor with Adam Driver

You may recognize Adam Driver from the newest Star Wars movies, but before his time fighting in galactic space battles, he was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. Adam describes perfectly how he learned how to find the words to express his complex feelings throughout his transition from soldier to civilian as he tells the story of how and why he became a Marine and how he formed his nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces.

learn more about Arts in the Armed Forces

Remembering Dick Allen, 1939-2017

We share this in memory and honor of Dick Allen, who is also a good friend of the TLA Network. He keynoted at our 2013 conference, and he’s one of the featured poets who contributed to the class, Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Time with Poets Laureate. [This is an excerpt from Caryn Merriam-Goldberg’s blog.]

What impressed me first was his sestina, a very challenging kind of poem he wrote after hanging with a bunch of us fellow state poets laureate at a lingering dinner at a Concord, New Hampshire Holiday Inn restaurant. A dozen of us gathered from Louisiana to Texas for the Poets & Politics conference to first travel around the small state, giving readings with local poets, then present together for conference-goers.

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The only problem was, that aside from the conference organizers, there were only a handful of conference-goers. We filled the open space with getting to know each other, and those three evenings spent lingering for hours over dinner were some of the most delightful of my life. We talked poetry of course, but also about our kids, how we got to or stayed in the states where we lived, and what we regretted and embraced in how we juggled writing with the other aspects of our lives. But mostly, we laughed, and somehow caught the wave of making air quotes with our fingers for every noun in a sentence one long night over chicken parmesan and garlic knots.

Dick was quirky, approachable, and full of stories, wit, and a kind of peaceful presence only matched by his passion for all things poetry.  The next evening he shared the sestina he had just written, and we raised our glasses to him after he read it to us, all of us blown away that he could turn such a spectacular poem out in such short order. What makes sestinas hard to write is that 1) they’re long — 39 lines, and 2) you have to repeat in a very complex pattern the ending word to a line in each stanza. It’s a little like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle without a picture of what it should look like while juggling six words (repeated at the  end of lines in various formations). It probably takes most people, even very experienced poets, weeks to write a sestina, and blessings of the gods to write a great one. Yet he wrote “If You Visit Our Country,” which he also read on Prairie Home Companion, and is also published in my poet laureate memoir, a book Dick kindly blurbed, Poem on the Range.  

I was so impressed by Dick that I invited him to be a keynote speaker at the Transformative Language Art Network’s Power of Words conference in 2013 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia. We had a tight budget and could only offer him an amount that probably just covered travel for his and his wife, poet and fiction writer L. N. Allen, but he kindly accepted our offer, then showed up to give one of the most powerful talks on poetry and life I’ve ever heard, plus a wonderful workshop. But what I remember most was taking a walk with Dick to look at the oldest beech tree  in Pennsylvania, which towered over the very tall and tree-like Allen. We stood in wonder at the base of this grandmother tree, placing our hands on it, and looking up. The size and presence of this being was so awesome that we stopped talking and just smiled at each other, then after a while, walked back, talking about what a gift this moment was.

Not only did he and his wife give so much goodness to the conference, but he wrote Callid, the then-coordinator of the TLA Network, and myself the best notes of our lives, which has the same kind of wild and enthusiastic sentences that threads together in some of his shining poems, thanking us, among other things, “….for the quiet path to the small pond with the fountain and the willow I took Saturday afternoon, for what may be the best brownies of my life, in addition to fabulous breakfasts; for the huge writing expertise of those in my workshop, for the terrific audience response to my poems, for the flashlights we didn’t need when the lights went on, for the ever present care and devotion to the written art, for storytelling and transformations,  for the chocolate bar and the parking space and places to meditate everywhere, thank you!”

Dick knew a lot about gratitude, and attending to the moment. A long-time student, and through his own way of being in the world and his poetry, teacher of Zen Buddhism, he showed up fully at conferences and in email exchanges also.  I just looked over a bevy of emails in which we joked about New England versus Kansas, and Dick sent along photos of wide-perspective Kansas highways leading to a steady point, surrounded by flatlands, which he said he especially loved, while I joked back, “Our state is so big that we can fit two New Englands in it and still have room for New Jersey.” When I sent him photos of our town’s gorgeous maples turning deep red and orange, he responded, “Don’t you realize there are no maple trees in Kansas? You’re living in a hallucination and need to drink some dark sunflower coffee.” We went on to write about our grown children, and in his case, the miracle of the grandchild he didn’t expect and now adores. His love for Kansas and New England was as real as his support for a younger poet — surely I’m one of many he reached out in various ways.

He knew how to bring just the right touch and tone to the most difficult curves of our time also, just like he did in the poem he wrote in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting, “Solace.” You can hear him reading this tender and powerful poem here.

He’s also one of the featured state poets in the self-paced online class “Truth to Power: Poetry for Our Times with Poets Laureate” I put together for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and we were just emailing about at the end of November when I asked him to share a bunch of poems, writing reflections, writing prompts, and many  links to his work. Not only did he give (again) freely, but he wrote me of the class, “That’s a great thing to do and an honor to be asked.”

The real deal is that Dick was a truly great poet — one of the foremost poets of our time — with an immensely generous and loving heart and a brave and clear mind. In one of our stretches of correspondence, he shared what he called “Gerund Phase Sonnets” — each 14 lines long like a sonnet, but loosely rhymed, all describing a process, some parables too. He wrote of these sonnets, “The form is a vessel, perhaps comparable to Emily Dickinson’s use of simple quatrains, freeing the poet to concentrate on theme and subject and/or to be led by the easy rhymes and American speech patterns of lines of varying length into unexpected places.”

I’m grateful for getting to know him, and sad he’s suddenly gone, having died Tuesday after a heart attack on Christmas. What he’s left behind are many poems I’ll return to with fresh eyes, remembering what he showed me and reflecting on what his poems illustrate about how to simply be while overflowing with compassion, humor, intelligence, and vitality.

 

 

 

Deeper Understanding Through Shared Stories: PBS’s “The Vietnam War”

On Sunday night, PBS will begin airing a ten-part, 18-hour series called The Vietnam War. I’m looking forward to watching it, and I’m dreading watching it.

For those of us old enough to have lived through that time, memories of the war are still painfully raw. As a country, we still argue about its lessons. In fact, there is so much controversy, we haven’t done a very good job of telling its history to younger generations.

Perhaps this television series will help correct that. No doubt, creating the documentary was a daunting task. How do you provide a window into so many conflicting perspectives? How do you bring to life so many different experiences?

PBS and the filmmakers wisely decided to open up the dialogue. They are soliciting and publishing personal narratives about the Vietnam experience from anyone with a story to tell (go to http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/vietnam-stories/ to join in). The stories have one thing in common: their diversity, in both the tellers and their experiences. There are stories of soldiers, of children who lost their fathers, of protestors, of conscientious objectors, stories of sorrow, of triumph, of loss, of courage, and more.

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I’m sure the 18-hours of documentary will be instructive and often riveting. But these personal stories on the website bring an added dimension and deeper understanding of the effect the war had on us as a people. Together—the artfully crafted film by professionals and the informal heartfelt outpourings of self-appointed witnesses—paint a complicated and more complete portrait of a cataclysmic event.

“Girl Talk”

by Melissa Rose

I began performing spoken word poetry when I was 15 years old. At the time, I was the girltalk5youngest person who participated in poetry slams and open mics in my local area. While this was sometimes an advantage, I often found myself surrounded by adults at least a decade older than me, knee-deep in life experiences well outside my youthful worldliness. I felt awkward in my natural place in life, and as I shared my feelings and thoughts on stage, I never felt quite like I fit in due to never having other young people to write and connect with. I felt like my stories were unimportant. That what I was experiencing–all of the confusion, self-loathing, and insecurity–was strange and unnatural. For years I wrote about what the adults around me wanted me to write about, instead of the things I wanted to express.
 
In 2015 I created Siren, a nonprofit organization founded to uplift the voices of girls who, like me, wanted their stories to be heard. For the last two years we have worked with other organizations that serve the girls in our community, providing spoken word summer camps, weekly after school improv workshops, and writing clubs. During this time I have had the opportunity to witness several young women share their stories and experiences on stage, developing self confidence and personal empowerment as a result.
 
In early April I was invited to collaborate with Cari Ingrassia, an amazing local visual artist, on an installation that would showcase the voices of girls from our community. The installation would be featured in an event called Platform Festival–a multi-disciplined art experience that featured dance, music, performance, and other forms of expression. Cari and I discussed that the project would focus on the “secrets” of girlhood and the messages girls receive. The stories told peer to peer about what it is to be female in our society. We decided on a blanket fort to be our setting for the installation; an impenetrable fortress of girlhood, reminiscent of slumber parties, and chose on three archetypal images to guide us: a doll, a mirror and a telephone.
 
girltalk2The girls who participated in the project wrote powerful pieces of poetry that addressed the issues of body perception, menstruation, virginity, broken hearts, catcalling, and “letting go” of the little girl inside of them in order to become women. We had each girl record her poems and then record some of the most powerful lines from their pieces in a whisper. Cari then installed the poems into each of the archetypes, allowing participants to interact with the poems by listening to the girl’s voices inside of the items. From the outside, the installation resembled something beautiful, frilly, and sweet, but like with the reality for girls around the world, what lingered just below the surface was filled with trauma, pain, and confusion.
 
The night of the event, two of the girls who had worked on the project performed their girltalk10poems live outside of our blanket fort as participants funneled through the installation. Women and men of all ages enjoyed interacting with the various elements of the project, some even moved to tears from the rawness of the experience and the poignancy of the struggles girls encounter that we were trying to convey.
Working on this project also evoked powerful feelings within myself, reconnecting me
with my past and those first few years of performing poetry. The inner turmoil and self-hatred I felt. The confusion and trauma I too experienced growing up as a girl. Witnessing these young women and hearing their own stories, their own self awareness and strength, was a healing experience for that little girl, still living within me. The one I tried to silence all those years ago.
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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.

The Telling Room: Proving the Power of Words

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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.

#strongertogether, by Amanda Fay Lacson

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts. This one was originally posted on Amanda Faye Lacson’s blog, here.

#strongertogether
My heart is broken in a million pieces and the tears keep coming. I’m grateful to my friends, who will and have empathized with me. 
 
Since my heart’s already broken…
 
a piece for my LGBTQ friends, for their rights to openly love each other;
 
a piece for my immigrant friends and families (including my own), whose contribution to the American fabric cannot be discounted;
 
a piece for my friends of all colors, that you feel safe in your own skin;
 
a piece for my friends of all religions, that you feel safe worshipping your higher power;
 
a piece for my friends who are parents, that your children learn the value of love and empathy;
 
a piece for my friends who are teachers, that your students learn the value of work and words;
 
a piece for all the women, and the men who support them, that we continue to honor and stand up for each other’s rights and safety.
 
My husband reminded me that we dig ourselves out of deep darkness and despair through creativity, not complacency. I suppose it’s already working, as I haven’t written something like this in years. So a final piece: for my friends who are artists and activists, that we may rise up through anger and love to light and strength.
 
We are still #strongertogether.
 
– Amanda Faye Lacson

I Cannot Stand By Silently, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: In response to the election, there has been a lot of crying — and outcrying — on both sides. The TLA Network asked for practitioners to share their thoughts.

Additionally, as some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the third submission to our blog by monologist Janet Toone.


This last week we had an election, an upset many of us did not expect. During the campaign, the male candidate, who in his own words, repeatedly showed himself to be misogynist and a bigot. According to my perspective, by his own words, he also fit the profile of a sexual predator.

As a woman who grew up in a home where I was taught on a daily basis that females were worth less than cows; where women and children were battered and abused; where females were continuously sexually objectified and abused, I found myself in disbelief. Had American women really contributed to the election of a President who openly objectified females; who bragged about sexual assault, who engaged in brutal verbal abuse of females; and who had a long history of discrimination against individuals of color?

As I watched this candidate gather his “team of good old boys” including a democrat turned independent turned republican with his own share of scandals, another who was reprimanded as Speaker of the House for providing false information to the House ethics committee and using a tax exempt organization for political purposes. There was nothing in the history and personal lives of these men to reassure me that they have any desire to protect the rights of children, females, or minorities.

This election became a wake-up call. I cannot stand by silently and passively allow this lack of respect and lack of values to be perpetuated. I owe a commitment to stand and be counted as a woman who is not only openly intolerant of such behaviors, but who is also willing to fight for the rights of children, women and minorities to my grandchildren, my great granddaughter and their peers.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Influencing Values Through TLA, by Doug Lipman

In our society, “influencing values” brings up images of someone lecturing children on abstract concepts (e.g., “honesty,” “perseverance,” etc.).

values-of-futureIt turns out, though, that we learn values from our own experience. In workshops I do with organizations, I often ask, “Choose a value that is important to your work. How did you learn the importance of that value?”

In response, people almost always have at least one story of something that happened to them. Having told it, they continue, “After that happened, I realized that…” Rough examples of their stories might be:

  • The time my family cooperated to get something done, taught me the value of cooperation;
  • The time I lied taught me the value of honesty;
  • The time someone else was disrespectful to me, I learned the value of treating people with respect.

Prompting Value Changes

As we’ve seen, values grow out of specific experiences. We don’t learn them by prescription, but by construction: we build our values over time. If you want someone to change their values, then, you probably shouldn’t begin by arguing with them about why their values are wrong. Instead, you need to make sure that they have experiences – first-hand or vicarious – in which they are practicing those values and then, as a consequence, experiencing success.

Having had those experiences, they can realize at some point, “Yes, when I acted that way, things went better than when I didn’t. And, yes, that was an example of this value.” Initially, they may not realize it consciously, but in time they will begin to regard acting in accordance with that value as good, right, or worth the cost.

Imagined Experiences

Storytelling gives people imagined experiences. When I listen to your story of how treating someone disrespectfully caused painful results, I imagine a version of your experience. I see and hear things similar to what you saw and heard. I feel emotions similar to those that you felt.

If I tell a story that is about living out a value (or failing to live that value) then people imagine my experience, thus replicating that experience in their minds.

Embedded Values

Of course, the idea of telling stories about values is not, by any means, a new idea. Anyone who has thought seriously about language arts has probably realized that stories, songs, poems and more can reinforce certain values.

But have you considered this idea: The very process of telling stories reinforces certain values! In fact, the very process of participating in many language arts can do the same.

In a society where we see political debates in which people call each other names and shout each other down (only listening long enough to form a rejoinder) the value of open, delighted listening seems foreign and impractical, like some ideal from the distant past or from an impossible future.

But storytelling, for example, already gives people the experience of open, delighted listening! In every culture, people learn unconsciously to listen to stories differently from how they listen to explanations or exhortations. You might readily interrupt someone, for example, who is telling you their opinion about a political race. But if they are telling a story about their own experience, the unconscious rules of conversation change: you are expected to wait for the story to be over. Further, you listen, not so much to comprehend, but to imagine and feel.

Eight Values Embedded in the Processvalues-of-the-future

As it turns out, even the process of preparing a story to tell (discovering, developing, shaping, and practicing stories) can give people practice in certain values, as well.

I’ve made a list of eight values that, I believe, are potentially embedded in the process of learning and telling stories:

Group A: The Primacy of Connection

  • Value #1: The Power of Listening
  • Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
  • Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
  • Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness

Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds

  • Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
  • Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
  • Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
  • Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

Further, I suspect that most, if not all, of these values can be reinforced by numerous arts.

Process Shapes Values

As we have seen, conventionally we tend to think that values are taught by talking about them. Many of us have come to the deeper realization that we learn values primarily from experience, including the imagined experiences provided by the arts. I invite you to explore yet another layer, as well: experiencing the processes involved in an art form can also reinforce values.

And, as it turns out, the values embedded in certain artforms are values that can guide the transformation of our society—to one that is more just, less wasteful of our abilities,  and more supportive of the flourishing of every human.

Learn More!

If you’d like to learn more about how the very processes of storytelling reinforce these values—and might like to participate in describing how the process of other arts can do the same—there are two upcoming opportunities:


In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom.