The Five Senses and Four Elements: An Interview With Angie River

AngieAngie River will be teaching the upcoming class “The Five Senses and Four Elements: Connecting with Body and Nature Through Poetry” which begins on June 14th. This class will “help us to slow down, breathe deeply, and experience our bodies in this world.” Below is an interview with Angie about her class.

TLA Blog (TLA): How did you discover, learn about and experience the topic that you’ll be teaching?

Angie River(AR): When I was in college I had a professor, Bruce Goble, who introduced me to the concept of the ‘small noticing’ (a term coined by poet Samuel Green). The small noticing is essentially a focused, mindful, close observation turned into a concise, yet highly descriptive, sensory phrases or pieces of writing. The introduction to this concept made me start slowing down and noticing more things, especially in the natural world.

I began combining nature walks and exploration with writing in some of the classes I taught, and even had the opportunity to co-teach a class with a science instructor that brought together the worlds of biology and poetry! I also spent more time myself immersed in nature when writing. I found some of my best written reflection and contemplation happened when next to a campfire or when leaning against a piece of driftwood at the ocean.

As I age and learn more about myself, I have found the importance in my own personal life of slowing down, communing with the world around me, and turning inward in reflection. My hope is that the participants can use this class as an opportunity to do those things as well.

TLA: Which element do you find yourself writing the most through?

AR: I find peace at the ocean and find myself in life repeatedly drawn to Water, so find myself often writing about this element. However, I think that all the elements have such interesting qualities and can inspire our writing (and our lives!) in different ways. Recently a student in another class I teach wrote a piece with a line in it about the “grass muttering” and ever since I’ve been thinking a lot about the Earth element and the ways that the Earth speaks to us. I think that there are different phases in my life where I am drawn to different elements, as they each have distinct qualities and characteristics.

TLA: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

AR: This class is really great for anyone who wants to take some time to slow down and be more present in the world and within themselves. It is good for novice writers as well as those with more experience. It doesn’t matter where you live either, both rural and urban settings are fine, because we can find little bits of nature everywhere!

TLA: What can students in this class expect?

AR: Each week will have a different focus, and I will provide students with texts (articles, videos to watch, things to listen to, art to view, etc). There will be a few discussion questions where students respond to the texts and we engage in conversation around them as a class. Each week a different form of poetry will be introduced as well. Finally, there are three creative prompts provided each week from which students can pick to do some creative writing. We will engage in the natural world, as well as turn inwards to ourselves, in some way each week.

Specifically, Week One ​will begin with an overview of sensory-based writing and a discussion of the benefits of using the natural world as a way of talking about our bodies and selves. Weeks Two through Week Five will each focus on a different element – earth, air, water, and fire – and the ways we can connect with both with these elements and with our selves through writing. Week Six​ will bring the various writing we’ve done throughout the course together, and will be a time for reflection upon the previous weeks’ work.

My hope with this class is to create a space for students to be able to explore, where they will feel comfortable digging into new ideas and growing new creations.

TLA: Why is connecting to our senses so important in our writing practices?

AR: I think this can be looked at two ways…both in the way that improves our practice, and also in the way it improves our writing. In regard to our writing, I believe that sensory details are really the backbone. Sensory imagery brings writing to life, and can create a vivid picture for the reader.

Connecting to our senses is important in our writing practice, though, as it brings us into our bodies. When we write from a place where we are really connected to our selves, I believe we can more fully engage in our writing. We aren’t detached from it; it becomes more personal. Also, connecting to our senses gives us so many points of inspiration to write from! If going through our day unaware and disconnected we may not notice all the amazing details of life that we can write about, but when more tuned in with our bodies and senses, we are bombarded with material and inspiration, and one almost can’t help but want to write!

Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist. She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blogand zines. Angie fully believes in the power of writing to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.

The Poetics of Witness: An Interview with Caits Meissner

caitsCaits Meissner will be teaching the upcoming class “The Poetics of Witness: Writing Beyond The Self” beginning June 14th. This class will investigate “the power inherent when other people’s stories enter our hands” and will explore persona pieces, manifestos, odes, and our own stories to explore different ways to witness the world around us. Here is a short interview with Caits about the class:

TLA Blog (TLA) Why might this class be important at this time in the world?

Caits Meissner (CM): We live in a society that is both increasingly intersectional, while also spiraling backwards into profoundly oppressive, repressive and unjust terrain. It is a frightening world to wake up in everyday. I often think of the quote from poet and activist June Jordan, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” No one will write the books for us. We must tell history through our unique perspectives. We must drum up the courage to write for a future we cannot envision yet. It is our duty, as well as a healing force for self and others, to find a way to express, push up against, expose, archive, grapple with and bear witness to the difficult times we are living in as a service to the world.

But constant exposure to the injustices proliferating around us can be overwhelming, and as a writer, knowing where to enter the conversation can be intimidating, especially when writing across lines of identity. It is worth unpacking what makes us worried or uncomfortable about this act of witness, and examining how to engage with respect, tenderness, care and ethics. This work alone, the personal questioning process and journey, can begin to create the necessary work of changing our world before the poems are even written.

TLA: How did you discover, learn about and experience the topic that you’ll be teaching?

CM: I first learned the phrase Poetry of Witness after falling in love with poet Carolyn Forche’s work, specifically her book The Country Between Us.  That is her phrase for poems that bear witness to injustice, and her own are exceptional examples. Learning about how to write this way (and I’m still learning) was/is trial and error, immersing myself in conversations and communities that challenged me to look at my positionality, ask questions about my own motivation in the writing and encouraged me to stick out the path, to not shy away or become so fearful of “getting it wrong” that I ignored issues and stories I found deeply important. I was also influenced by my work in various classrooms – public school, prison, needle exchanges, working with people with intellectual disabilities, etc. – and struggled with how to share what I was experiencing without exploiting or stealing the stories of others. Walking these fine lines is an ongoing process in the life of a writer, and certainly in my own.

TLA: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

CM: I believe anyone interested in storytelling that includes the stories of others would benefit from our examination, practice and dialogue. This might be a poet seeking to engage our current political landscape, or a practitioner looking to translate their experiences in the field ethically. It might be a traveler who has witnessed a scene that jarred them, or a reader moved by an account of injustice across the world. It is for anyone interested in approaching the page and the subjects of our writing with deep honor. But one thing is a requirement: must be open to self examination and a process of understanding the journey and perspectives of other people.

TLA: What can students in this class expect?

CM: Students can expect to write weekly within provided containers, engage difficult conversations and reflections about our task as writers of witness, find inspiration and challenges in incredible master work, determine the stories that intrigue and call to them and build the beginnings of a possible new project/collection. Some may use this process as a reflective tool, others as a generative engagement. Either, or both, orientations are valuable.


TLA: Who are your top 3 favorite poets (and why)?
CM: That is an impossible question! In truth, I cannot answer the question of all time favorite, I am too inspired by too many writers, but I can share who is inspiring me right now:
1. Natalie Scenters-Zapico, who’s book The Verging Cities writes about love and borderlands. I don’t know how to describe it other than aching poetic memoir infused with magical-realism and it is deeply affecting to my heart and senses. I just love it and find myself spending hours in the worlds she builds, returning over and over to her rich poems.
2. C.D. Wright did a lot of really interesting work with poetry before her too-soon passing. I’ve been kind of obsessed with One Big Self, a kind of collaged poetic impression/document of a Louisiana prison experience, and One With Others, which uses oral history, journalism and poetry to examine the civil rights era south through her fierce mentor’s life.
3. Claudia Rankine blew the roof off of poetry and nonfiction alike with her recent book Citizen, which brilliantly addresses race, pop culture, self identity and micro-aggressions through prose poems, criticism and art strewn through out the book. It is absolutely crucial reading.

Caits Meissner is a multidisciplinary writer, artist and community facilitator. She is the author of the hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016), and The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You (Well&Often, 2012), co-written with poet Tishon Woolcock. With a long history in community arts, Caits currently teaches in prisons, public school, and at CUNY and The New School University. She is a Spring 2017 MFA in Creative Writing candidate at City College of New York.

Mortified: Share the Shame


In 2002 the discovery of an unsent teenage love letter resulted in a call for individuals to share their own childhood writings on stage for an audience…and Mortified was born.

Mortified’s motto is “There are a million stories buried in the pages of people’s lives. Our mission is to help people find them.” and for over a decade they have been doing just that-providing a public space for people to reflect on their adolescent hopes, dreams and dramas. From podcasts to documentaries to books to ongoing live performances, Mortified events invite us all to share our most vulnerable selves during the most insecure times of our lives. Participants in Mortified live performances come from a variety of backgrounds and occupations, but the common link of teenage embarrassment becomes the single relatable thread that binds us all in knowledge that we all survived even the most confusing and harrowing experiences of adolescence.
Mortified currently has chapters in Austin, Boston, Chicago, DC/Baltimore, Denver, LA, NYC, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area and abroad in Amsterdam, Dublin, Helsinki, London, Malmo, Oslo, Paris, and Trondheim. Anyone is welcome to submit their own teenage horror stories to perform in their live events, so “dust off that old diary and unearth those letters” and feel Mortified.

To find out more about Mortified, to host an event, or to listen to their podcast, visit their website at




What To Tell The Children, by Rachel Kann

TEDx Poet Rachel Kann is a modern-day mystic: irreverently reverent and exuberantly human. Her poetry has been featured on Morning Becomes Eclectic on NPR and as The Weather on the podcast phenomenon, Welcome to Night Vale. She is the 2017 Outstanding Instructor of the Year at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She’s a Write Club Los Angeles champ and resident writer for Hevria, where she is also featured as a performing artist on The Hevria Sessions. Find out more about her work at


True Story Theatre Visits Sparks! Tonight


Christopher Ellinger, Artistic Director of True Story Theatre is the featured guest at tonight’s Sparks! online gathering and we are so excited to have them speak with us. True Story Theatre offers a variety of amazing opportunities for individuals and groups of all ages to heal through theatre and performance. True Story Theatre has worked with hospitals, businesses, weddings, universities, religious congregations and other communities  to show the power of story and deepen connections with a common humanity.

True Story Theatre perform and teach an embodied theatre of empathy, respect and creativity. Volunteers from the audience are helped to share what’s important in their lives.  On the spot, actors then portray the heart of what they heard using music, movement, and dialogue. From this simple interaction, people laugh, cry, share fresh insights, and bond.  Our events create a respectful atmosphere where every voice can be heard and any story told — however ordinary or extraordinary, difficult or joyful.”

Are you as excited as we are about this event?

Join us tonight at 7pm Central, 8pm Eastern, bring your questions for Christopher Ellinger, any questions you have about TLA, and a poem, song or passage to share with the group.

Sparks! A Free Online Gathering for Poetry, Stories, and Songs

Moderated by Kelly DuMar

Sparks, formerly known as Let’s Talk TLA, is a free bi-monthly teleconference moderated by Kelly DuMar, TLAN Membership Chair, interviewing notable Transformative Language Artists on their work, followed by a poetry open mic.

Register here

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly will interview workshop presenters on the call for 30 minutes about their POW workshops.
  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask questions and discuss TLA, your own practice, goals, or vision.
  • We’ll devote the next 15 or so minutes to the open mic poetry readings.
  • You don’t need to be a member of TLAN to participate!

See you there!!



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!


Queen of the 88s

Be inspired by this piece by keynote speaker Kelley Hunt and get your tickets to the Power of Words Conference to see her in person.

In some ways Roots R&B/Americana singer/songwriter/piano player/guitarist Kelley Hunt is a rarity and a challenge to the music industry’s penchant for easy artist definitions — a woman who has muscled her way onto the scene on her own terms with an identity steeped in blues/roots/gospel traditions and a refreshing originality. She makes music with it’s righteous roots intact that also crosses boundaries, has an open-minded, exploratory attitude, and takes on social and political issues. Together with a commanding, passionate stage presence and superior vocal, keyboard, and songwriting skills, she has earned the respect of critics and fans across North America and Europe.

Blurred Vision, by Mahogany L. Browne

Mahogany is one of the keynote speakers for this year’s Power of Words conference. Experience one of her powerful spoken word pieces here:

Mahogany is an Executive Editor at The Offing, a Cave Canem, Poets House & Serenbe Focus fellow and author of several books including NAACP Image Award nominated Redbone. Browne has toured Germany, Amsterdam, England, Canada and Australia. Her journalism work has been published in magazines Uptown, KING, XXL, The Source, Canada’s The Word and UK’s MOBO. Her poetry has been published in literary journals Pluck, Manhattanville Review, Muzzle, Union Station Mag, Apogee, Literary Bohemian, Joint & The Feminist Wire. She co-organizer of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, founder of Women Writers of Color Reading Room (housed on Pratt Institute) & is an Urban Word NYC Poet-in-Residence (as seen on HBO’s Brave New Voices). Mahogany earned her MFA degree from Pratt Institute (inaugural class) and serves on the Board of Trustees for Pratt Institute. Mahogany is currently co-editing Black Girl Magic (Haymarket, 2017), is the Poetry Program Director of the Nuyorican Poets Café and lives in Brooklyn, NY.


A Ciguapa Speaks: On How I Came To Value Wholeness, with Marianela Medrano

Editor’s Note: We love to showcase work of people in the TLA Network and broader community. This is the TEDx talk given by one of our members and presenters, Marianela Medrano.

Dr. Marianela Medrano was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and has lived in Connecticut since 1990. A poet and a writer of nonfiction and fiction, she holds a PhD in psychology. Medrano is Vice President of Grace Works International, a charitable foundation involved in outreach in the developing world. Her literary work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines in Latin America, Europe and the United States. Medrano is also a regular blogger for the American Counseling Association (ACA).

Courageous Decisions, by Eila Algood

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, and can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog.

      The fluorescent lights were bright, stark and as cold as the chilled winter air outside.  Hot air blew relentlessly making the room overheated while turning my skin to leather. Endless announcements played like off key music to my ears.  The smell of antiseptic and medicine wafted over me, reminding me of the many sad moments I had spent at my mother’s hospital bed.  Only this was not my mother, nor was it I who was lying in the bed, waiting for yet another invasive medical procedure.  My heart ached as I rose from my chair to play a CD of native flute music that would bring relaxation if not peace to this sterile environment.  I clicked off the light and crawled up beside the woman lying in the bed.  Putting my arm under her neck and touching my head to hers, I whispered “Listen to the music and imagine we are by Oak Creek in Sedona after hiking up Cathedral Rock.  Close your eyes, hear the music, feel the warm desert air on your face and trust my love flowing  into your heart.”  

      We breathed together, imagining the beautiful scene while waiting for whatever was to come next.  We were living in that moment and I was focused on loving her.  It mattered not what the nurse or doctor might think when they stepped in and saw us; two grown women cuddled up in their hospital bed.  This was the first person I’d ever fallen in love with and according to the doctors, she was dying.  Kidney cancer, they said and the prognosis was horrible.  I had moved beyond the obvious questions of why her, why now when I had just moved out of my marriage to be with her.  How cruel it seemed to give me these amazing new sensations and emotions at age 37 with her, only to take her away from me.  But as I lie in the hospital bed with my lips to her head the only thoughts were of hope.  Hope for a miracle.  Feelings of love emanated from every molecule of my being to hers.  Peace was present.  Doubt and fear were not allowed into this sacred space.  

      As we grew closer, loving one another more deeply, her physical body was deteriorating.  Cancer was taking her away from me.  I was strong, healthy and determined not to let it win.  Was it courage or craziness that happened next?  On a cold winter’s day in upstate New York, we boarded a plane for Phoenix.  We left the familiar: the family, friends and home to fly to hope and promise.  Hope for a miracle so cancer would not take her.  Promise of a life together filled with love, laughter and dreams.  I pushed her in the wheelchair from the plane to the taxi wishing we were here to hike in Sedona rather than this.  Arriving at the alternative health clinic, we were greeted with smiles filled with hope.  Perhaps the miracle would occur.

       There was vitamin therapy, cranial sacral treatments, dietary guidelines and wellness counseling.  One moment at a time we sat together, talking, hoping, and loving one another.  Her sons came to see her.  Such sadness in their eyes it was difficult for me to be with them.  I had my own emotions which made my ability to empathize with them very challenging.   Her estranged sister came to see her, to ease her conscience, I suppose.  Every moment of every day I loved her, wanting my love for her to be more powerful than the cancer.  My love was supposed to make the cancer disappear.  That was my plan.  That  was my hope.  That is not what happened.  The cancer grew from her kidney into her lungs until she could no longer breath.  The life force dissipated and her soul left the body.  I had held her hand so many times before, experiencing tremendous loving energy with her but now, I held her lifeless hand, gazing at her fingers as I stroked them, noticing there was no energy emanating from her anymore.  I wept.

      It was not courageous for me as a married woman to fall in love with another woman;  no that was an involuntary act.  The courage arrived with the cancer diagnosis.  The decisions I made to stand beside her, loving her up until she gasped her last breath, those decisions required courage. Transformative Language Arts helped create a container for me to express our experience with the intent of giving voice to same-gender love in a context many could understand through the sharing of raw emotion. Soon after Britt died, I was asked to speak at her memorial service. I gathered my courage and scripted my words carefully, sharing a truth of my experience of her that would be uplifting to all who loved her.

eila A native New Yorker, who’s now living her dream of a sustainable life in Hawai’i with wife, Holly, Eila’s been expressing herself through writing since childhood.  Published works include, “On The Road To Bliss”, “Rhapsody in Bohemia”, pieces in Frida Magazine and Think Pink Anthology as well as monthly articles in Kohala Mountain News.