Unpicking The Wound With Words

by Stefanie M Smith

It’s over a year since I first discovered the Transformative Language Arts Network. I’d been looking for a class I could take online fore self-development, and having always had a love of language; it was only natural that I decided to look at some language classes. Little did I know what an amazing transformative tool I had discovered.

Now as the current class I am taking comes to a close, I have decided to take some time to reflect on just how far I have come.

I previously saw myself as a failure; I was 46, disabled – in pain both mentally and physically, and I was mourning my nursing career. I felt totally overlooked by society as a whole and that my voice was no longer relevant or important.

I realise now that some of my insecurities and lack of self-belief were due to the abuse I had been a victim of whilst I was growing up, combined with my mother’s lack of belief about the abuse when I tried to tell her about it. I had had no real validation throughout much of my childhood, however this realisation only truly came to me during my second TLA class – Wound Dwelling: Writing the Survivor Bodies with Jennifer Patterson. The class description had called out to me so strongly that I just had to take it, and I am so glad that I did.

One of the writing prompts from the first week asked us to do a free write based on a piece by Leslie Jamison – beginning from: “here is a [person] who is almost entirely wound…” It was an uncomfortable prompt for me but I decided it was something I needed to tackle head on, and this is an extract from what I wrote.

If I describe myself as Wound – what does that look like – what do I look like as Wound? If I close my eyes and think about how deeply I am wounded I can see a deep deep pressure sore – there at my base – on first look it seems small and neat but then on closer examination I can see that it goes Waaayyyy deep – right around and behind my spine – I could pack it with fibres to try and draw out the stinking pus and allow the edges of the wound begin to close in – but what I choose to do time after time – even though I know it won’t help me heal – is to patch it over & cover it with a sticking plaster – let the surface heal – and try to ignore the deep set rotting that carries on underneath – it looks pretty like that – in the same way that I choose to use a smile to hide my pain- but time and again without warning the rot – the pain – rises to the surface and breaks back through – a slimy ooze trickles through the flesh and releases my secret again. The stench a nose wrinkling smell that drags me back down to the depths.

This is not the story I want my wound to tell – I want to heal it properly from the inside out – not just allow the surface to heal – then break – then heal again in a never ending cycle.

My Wound – its’ story should follow a more linear path – the edges growing granulation – slowly steadily safely – letting new tissue – healed flesh working its’ way up – replacing the stinking pus – growing the pain and hurt out – yes there will be a scar – but scar tissue has its’ own strength – and once this Wound is closed properly – with honesty and revelations – it will not be broken down again – of this I am sure……….

It felt like I had gained a powerful new insight into my inner turmoil with just this one small piece of writing. I was amazed both at myself and at the process and it led me to challenge myself more over the duration of the class, each week coming to a new understanding of myself and my healing journey. This was just the first step of many along the path to a newly healed soul.

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

stefanieStefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.




By Melissa Rose


It is easier to dismiss others when we know them on the surface. We are all more than that surface image however. In fact, we are the same. Our stories unique, but somehow exactly alike, and if you take the time to listen, you discover the connection between us all.

Storytelling is a unique characteristic of human beings. We learn easiest through stories. storycorps4We connect with other humans through stories. Stories tells us who we are and who we want to be. They inspire and reflect. They show us the people we could be. The people we once were. The lessons we learned and learn again. Most importantly, they connect us.

StoryCorps is an organization dedicated to building connections through stories. Founded in 2003, what began as simple pop up “story booth” in Grand Central Station now has growth into a national movement, prompting permanent story booths located across the country, and a mobile booth which takes the storytelling on the road. Places where anyone can share a story with the world, and anyone else can listen to it.

StoryCorps’ mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build storycorps3connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”

The more we share our stories, the more we discover that we are more alike than different. That no matter our background and culture and history, we all experience the pain of loss. The power of love. The strength of our own resilience in the face of impossible odds. We discover that we are, in fact, one human family.

Discover some stories, and share your own!


“Beautiful” by Sonya Rene Taylor

Sonya Renee Taylor is an Internationally acclaimed performance poet, actress, educator and activist who’s been seen on HBO, CNN, BET, MTV, and the Oxygen Network. She has performed on stages from New Zealand to Scotland to New York, and is currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She is the creator of The Body Is Not An Apology Movement 

Writing Our Lives: An Interview with Dr. Liz Burke-Cravens

Liz is going to be facilitating her class, Writing Our Lives: The Poetic Self & Transformation starting October 18th and we are excited to be able to share this interview with her about the upcoming class.

TLA Blog (TLA) What inspired you to teach this class?
Liz Burke-Cravens (LBC) I have always been in love with autobiographical poetry, ever since I first read Sylvia Plath as an angst-filled teenager. Somehow, she honored my pain through the expression of hers. I had that sense that she knew me.  I was forever changed and continue to be changed by the poetry I read and write. My inspiration for this class, fundamentally, is my desire to share this transformative expression with others.
I have also been looking for an opportunity to synthesize two classes that I taught a few years ago in the undergraduate psychology program at a small, private university in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first class focused on elements of craft, literary criticism, and autobiographical writing. The other class focused on potential for reading/writing poetry as catalyst for healing and deepening connection, with a particular emphasis on theories of poetry therapy. The upcoming class, Writing Our Lives: The Poetic Self & Transformation, brings together a focus on craft and generating new writing, autobiographical inquiry, and reading/writing poetry as transformative and healing practice. In other words, this class is my way of sharing a framework to creatively examine one’s life, to develop greater self-awareness and understanding of one’s experience, and to empower people with the tools to authentically voice their truth.
TLA: How is writing poetry specifically a transformative experience? What makes the poetic medium different from other forms of expression?
LBC: Writing poetry offers the opportunity to express and explore the complexity of our emotions in relation to our lived experience. It can help you discover feelings you didn’t know where alive in you, explore them with the use of figurative language, and by doing so, enable you to reach new understandings or at least accept what we do not fully understand. When writing about your life, it becomes an examined life. It honors your sufferings, joys, fears and hopes as important and meaningful. Acclaimed poetry therapist John Fox summed up the transformative potential of writing poetry: “Poetry is natural medicine….Writing and reading poems is a way of seeing and naming where we have been, where we are, and where we are going with our lives.” Writing poetry, quite simply, expresses what plain language does not.
TLA: Who/What are some of your favorite poets/poems?
LBC: I would be negligent to not mention Sylvia Plath, not merely because, as I mentioned before, she was the first poet who I felt was speaking directly to me. I carried around her Collected Poems everywhere I went as a teenager! One of my favorite poems of hers is “Tulips.” The first few lines of the fifth stanza take my breath away every time: “I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free— / The peacefulness is so big it dazes you.” Astonishing.
Marie Howe’s work never ceases to resonate with me. Her book What the Living Do, is my current favorite. She has an amazing way of elevating the mundane tasks and happenings of one’s life to intensely meaningful—if not spiritual—proportions. The poem “What the Living Do,” is an excellent example of this. The last few lines capture not only mundane details, they also capture a certain experience of grief: “But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the / window glass, / say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing / so deep / for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m / speechless: / I am living. I remember you.”
TLA: What should students in this class expect?
LBC: Students should expect to be inspired by the work of a variety of contemporary poets, to play with elements of craft, and to generate a new body of work. But beyond what is noted in the class description, I want students to know that as a teacher/facilitator I understand how emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually vulnerable writing can be. I value that aspect of the writing process. My intention is to create a safe, respectful, and engaging learning environment that has space for both the expression of difficult emotions and joyful playfulness.
TLA: Is there anything else about this class you would like to share?
LBC: To learn a bit more about me, and my approach to teaching and writing, I invite people to visit my web site http://www.abravespace.org/. Feel free to contact me with any questions about the class!
lizburkeDr. Liz Burke-Cravens is a poet, educator, writing coach, passionate scholar and determined optimist. As an educator she is committed to critical and transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Her writings have appeared in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia, Volume 2, The Irish Herald, Soulstice: A Feminist Anthology Volume II, and Sandy River Review. She lives in Oakland, California with her wife, Amber, and their two dogs, Schmoopie and Mr. Bits.

Sparks! Tele-Conference Tomorrow Night

Sparks is a bi-monthly free tele-conference for all things TLA! Moderated by Kelly DuMar & Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, this tele-conference is a great opportunity for anyone to learn more about TLA practitioners and their work in the TLA community.

When and Where:

Wednesday, September 6th
7:00 PM – 8:15 PM (CDT)
Online via Zoom video conference

(Kelly will arrive on the video conference at 6:45 p.m. CENTRAL so you can connect early & work out any glitches! You will receive links and numbers in your email after RSVPing.)

This month’s featured guest is Gregg Levoy.

gregglevoyGregg is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion (Penguin), and Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life (Random House)—rated among the “Top 20 Career Publications” by the Workforce Information Group. He is also the former “behavioral specialist” at USA Today and a regular blogger for Psychology Today.

As a speaker, he has presented at the Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Protection Agency, Microsoft, National Conference on Positive Aging, American Counseling Association, National Career Development Association, and many others, and been a frequent guest of the media, including ABC-TV, CNN, NPR and PBS.

A former adjunct professor of journalism at the University of New Mexico, and former columnist and reporter for USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer, he has written for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Omni, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, and many others.

Format of the Gathering

  • Kelly and Caryn will interview Gregg for 30 minutes
  • We’ll then have 10-15 minutes to ask Gregg 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!

Click here for more information on how to register for this free event!

Your Memoir as Monologue – How to Create Dynamic Dramatic Monologues About Healing and Transformation for Performance

with Kelly DuMar

Kelly DuMar is teaching the six-week online class “Your Memoir as Monologue” starting September 6, 2017. She’s a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year.

What inspired you to teach this class?

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.

Sally Nutt performing at Our VoicesDon’t you love the invitation to enchantment? The theatre, darkened, the stage lit.
Whether I’m in the audience or the playwright, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question, What if. . . is an invitation to be enlightened, and changed through storytelling.

I love helping writers tell powerful stories on the stage – particularly those whose voices
and stories have been unheard, silenced, trivialized or marginalized. Eleven years ago, I founded a play festival, Our Voices, for new and experienced women playwrights to have a uniquely supportive place to develop their stories for the stage. Our Voices is an all day play lab that has supported nearly 150 women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. 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.”

How is writing for the page different from writing for the stage?

Collaboration with other artists is illuminating, joyful, and challenging – and writing for the stage requires it. Sitting day to day at one’s desk can be lonely. But writing for the stage invites us into a theatre – a rehearsal, into a 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.”

Morgan Lett performing at IWWG photo cred Brenda MantzWriting monologues for the stage makes the healing power of writing visible, visceral and accessible – not just for the playwright, but the audience as well. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing monologues for the stage is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.

What are some of your favorite dramatic monologues? 

My favorite is definitely Emily Webb’s “Goodbye,” monologue in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town. What moves me in a dramatic monologue is when a character goes on a compelling emotional journey and takes me with her – she begins in one place and ends in another – she’s more awakened, and so am I. Watch these Youtube videos of two different performances of the Emily Webb role – the first is from a movie:


Here’s the same monologue in a recording of a stage performance:


What can students in this class expect?

We need spaces where we can give ourselves permission to un-silence our deepest truths and most authentic self. In Memoir as Monologue, I facilitate a safe, supportive, healing environment for writers to tap into their deep feelings and beliefs and find the courage and skill to share them for personal growth and craft them for performance. Participants can expect to express ordinary and extraordinary life experiences, and feelings and construct powerful, dramatic stories with universal appeal.

Kelly at THEATRE EXPO 2015 copy Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., C.P., is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year, and she teaches playwriting at the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly’s award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn,HeuerYouth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and two poetry and prose chapbooks, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. 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 TLAN Council, and she moderates SPARKS: a bi-monthly teleconference where she interviews a notable TLA practitioner and leads an open mic. You can learn more at kellydumar.com

Praise for Kelly’s Monologue & Playwriting Workshops

“Memoir as Monologue taught me the power of my own story. Kelly’s guidance on creating effective drama, her concrete feedback on improving my work, the nurturing environment she created for participants and the excellent resources she brought to the table opened a whole new world for me. This was one of the most effective online classes I’ve taken.”

“Kelly provided excellent resources, offered valuable, timely feedback, sought our feedback as the course progressed and created a nurturing atmosphere. The opportunity to both write and hone monologues and then hear our work performed by a professional actress exceeded my expectations of the class. I learned the freedom monologues offer in contrast to writing.”

“[I learned] better ways to approach monologue than the ways I’d been trying; liked that I cracked open a tough nut of a story in a new way, identifying the core problem Narrator needed to solve (which was different from the problem she was trying to solve).”

“Thank you so much for guiding us all into a most wondrous experience . . . and your attentive intelligence in keeping us on track and focused as each shared and bared depths.”

“Your class was awesome, inspiring and so very insightful. What gifts you bring and give. Thank you!”

“Your memoir-to-monologue class has inspired a whole new project. Thank you. And thanks to my classmates. I learned so much from each of you.”

“Thank you for creating such a collaborative atmosphere of mutual support.”

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

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

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

Beginning September 6th

Click here to register and learn more about the class!

About the Teacher:

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

More Power of Words Conference Photos


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

Caryn gets thanked

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

Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac

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

What's Next?

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

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

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

POW! Immersed in the Power of Words

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

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

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

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

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

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


TLA, Who Knew?

By Eila Algood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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