Future Casting: an interview with Caits Meissner

Caits Meissner sat down with us before the pandemic to talk about teaching for the Network and to tell us about one of her online classes – the latest version of which launches next month. Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision, begins April 14, 2021. More here.

What do you see as the relationship of poetry to future casting, and future casting to social change?

I use future casting here in the loosest sense of the word, drawing on the simple idea that when we launch our wishes and hopes into the universe with earnest intention, they amplify. The object of devotion may be a higher power, but also may be nature, the universe, the commitment to reducing harm, a deeper sense of self love or humanity itself. 

The way I’m thinking about future casting in this course, as intentional wishing and visioning that extends beyond the self, is a different energy than protest, and railing against what is—a necessary strategy, but not the only one. 

I’m thinking of future casting as an impassioned call to forces beyond the human realm to support our collective betterment, to protect who is vulnerable, to uplift who is ignored, to create harmony and equity and peace and justice and environmental responsibility. To call in the gods or ancestors or universal light energy or natural intelligence to give us the strength and tools to help dream and build a better world. 

What motivated you to put together such a visionary class?

My own desperation for something different drove me forward. I have always been drawn to resistance art, and while I find that incredibly important, in this terrifying era we’ve entered, I also craved something more—hopeful may the wrong word—perhaps more fitting is visionary. The concept of emergence in social change began to stir me up. 

It was Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy that really got my gears turning about a course that tied together inspiration from a wide array of sources to propel us into the possibilities for healing our society. Brown looks at biomimicry, speculative fiction, posts tarot cards on her social media—she is ideating new social justice practices from an amazing mix of movement work, divination, nature and art. 

I am certain that hidden in the natural intelligence of our bodies is a creative force more profound than what is easily accessible in the rigid and fast pace of modern society. I think it takes playing outside our go-to inspirations to draw up what has previously been untapped. I wanted to push myself, and others, to dream forward and innovate in our poetry practices, the way Brown is asking of those engaging justice work.

What can people expect to experience, learn, and write in this class?

There will not be much, if any soap-boxing or pontificating from me, as the facilitator. I am no expert, I am a fellow seeker. Rather than reading my thoughts and ideas on a subject, I see my role as cultivating process and possibility through curating readings. 

I want to encourage participants to listen to what their bodies reveal, and then act on their gut impulses, what pulls them towards creation in what I offer. I would also like to gently push participants past nerves or fear to try something new. Therefore, we’ll engage a large range of material in order to unlock new pathways in the brain. I encourage participants to arrive expecting to play, and to challenge themselves to write towards creating an image of a just world, rather than (always) against it.

Participants should come ready to journal in response to questions, write for 15 minutes based on sometimes strange or even silly-seeming prompts, to read about a 20 page packet each week of poems and essays, to write another poem (I suggest writing a draft in 15 minutes, but it’s up to the writer) and to post the work they’d like feedback on in the forum—1 or 2 short pieces weekly. 

How has future casting and social change spoken through your writing, and can you share an example?

I often use poetry as a space to work out questions and ideas about the world—as writers tend to. And though I write from a variety of perspectives, the lens I employ that most closely resembles future casting, for me, is gratitude. I’ve written tender praise poems for women in prison, and girls in jail (this one is a poem-comic). I am also at work on a series of more personal comic-based “pep talks” that explore what is good in daily life, not always connected to an anchored social justice issue, but for example, how I’ve pulled myself out of depression, or how to connect to a partner romantically when totally broke! 

I also have a silly personal example that illustrates the kind of, wait, huh, what just happened? Did I write that into existence? As a young poet in my early twenties I was depressed. On the train home after seeing my favorite poet at the time, Pulitzer Prize-winning Yusef Komunyakaa, I wrote a poem asking him where his gift of writing derives from, and calling out for the experience of pain in order to write like him. Of course, Yusef’s life story is incomparably more intense than my own has ever touched close to, but still. A few months later and I experienced a romantic break up that kicked the light out of me—that really awful, gutting kind of ending. And then I got a letter. I was going across the world to a writing conference, on a full scholarship, completely free. To study under Yusef Komunyakaa for two weeks.

Magic? Future casting? I don’t know. I am sparked by the ideas presented in quantum physics, and what are thoughts but energy? Maybe there is something here to be harnessed intentionally in our writing towards a better world. 

Anything else participants should know?

Yes! When you take a class with me, you invest materials that can be used to make poems for years. I am not exaggerating. Each week’s packet comes with approximately 10-15 optional prompts that can be revisited again and again (you’ll only write 1-2 poem drafts each week during the course). Erika Jeffers, who took this class with me live at Poets House over the summer wrote me a wonderful email about how she used the curriculum again to produce more work. With permission, I’ll share what she told me:

“On the last day of class, I think I mentioned to you that I was planning on taking a week off from New York and staying at a cozy house in CT to write and revisit this class syllabus and I did it in just one week! In the mornings, I tackled one week and in the afternoons, I worked through another week and I had the entire 6-week workshop experience all over again, but condensed in a week. The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I’m not just saying that, I wasn’t writing for a year before the class. I wouldn’t say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn’t really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn’t good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what’s going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! Now that I’m back, I’m working on finishing up my chapbook!… Thank you soooo much! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus.”

  I’d say, like most experiences,  you get out of it what you put into it.

More on “Future Casting: Writing Towards a Just World Vision” here.

An Invitation from The TLA Network

Dear TLA Community,

As part of our effort to grow the TLA Network, we are always on the lookout for new instructors to teach classes for our community. Over time, we have developed a strong reputation for offering classes that speak to deep and meaningful human experiences, and, we are always eager to encourage fresh voices to join in the mix. 

We invite you to consider teaching for the Network. If you are that person who has often thought, I would love to teach what I know to this community, consider joining us in learning the fine art of teaching a well-crafted, strong online class.

Curious about what it would take? Interested in learning how to market a good class? This month we launch a new series, Tools for Teachers, geared towards training people to teach for the Network – we hope you will join us in honing your craft.

We encourage you to be bold: speak your truth, share your vision, and join us in creating a learning environment that builds connection, provides replenishment, and supports our community to go out to do the important work of healing our world.

To the power of words, 
Hanne Weedon, Managing Director

Hanne Weedon comes to TLAN with 20 years of leadership and program development experience in not-for-profit and government-funded organizations. A longtime community, arts and social justice advocate, she resonates with the goals and values of the TLA Network. Hanne’s appreciation for, understanding of and dedication to building representative, inclusive and diverse communities is a core aspect in all her work. 

TLA in Action Series–A Virtual Greenhouse Roundtable: an interview with poets Diane Glass, Liz Burke, and Rachel Gabriel.

Note: In an effort to encourage online creative communities and friendships within our TLAN membership, we will continue to examine models of creative small groups as we develop new ways for TLAN practitioners to keep in touch. We hope this article is the first of many to feature how members support one another. 

Do you have an idea for how TLAN could grow small groups for creative nourishment and support? Please share! Contact Hanne Weedon, TLAN managing director.

Well before the pandemic began, three friends from the Transformative Language Arts Network community created a literary friendship using virtual technology. They shared a passion for poetry and a desire to support one another’s writing. Through monthly meetings, they cultivated, nurtured, and sustained a welcoming environment for producing and revising their poetry. 

“A Virtual Greenhouse–Cultivating, Nurturing, and Sustaining Creative Growth through Literary Friendship” was one of several opportunities offered in the winter of 2020 by TLAN as part of our TLA in Action Series. What follows is a summary of the conversation between Liz Burke, Rachel Gabriel, and Diane Glass, as moderated by longtime TLAN teacher and community member, Kelly DuMar. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length. 

Kelly DuMar: Tell us about your passion for poetry.

Liz Burke: My love of poetry began with a love of language, the musicality of it, and its potential for creating worlds.

Diane Glass: Yes, with poetry, you’re able to go to the essence of something and really get at the heart of things. 

Rachel Gabriel: Humanity has always expressed its thoughts and dreams through poetry. When I write a poem, I am making one small observation yet joining a community of voices. Poetry is also a wonderful way for me to connect words with images and words with music. 

Kelly: How did your literary friendship develop?

Liz: We met through TLAN, but we really got to know one another during the Right Livelihood Professional Training. That first weekend together, we went through an intimate process of inner discovery. And we also considered how we want to live in this world. 

Diane: I came to the group with an intention: I wanted to write a book, something beautiful for family and friends. Along the way, the primary focus of our group became learning how to write poetry. This is a safe place to bring our work. We focus on the poem, not on our feelings.

Rachel: I studied so much literature in college that I couldn’t write for a long time, but I’ve done a lot of journeying as a writer and as a teacher of writing. In TLAN, you know that if you fall on your face, no one will mock you. They will pull you up and say try again. I [feel comfortable] bringing a little silliness and playfulness to this group. 

Kelly: How does the group work? 

Liz: We meet once a month for an hour, and everyone has about twenty minutes to share their work. We have clear guidelines, but we are always responsive to one another’s needs.

Rachel: We consider whether the poet’s intention is there on the page. Instead of saying whether or not we like a poem, we discuss whether or not the poem is working. It’s energizing to engage with your colleague’s work.

Diane: We share poems through a Google folder so people can see the poem while we talk about it. We listen and receive feedback, but know the poet must make the final decision.

Liz: I like to practice experimentation with form and play. I start with a poem as a nugget and then breathe air into it to inform the poem. In our group, we investigate every word—it’s an exciting process.

Kelly: How have you grown individually and as a group?

Diane: I brought a poem about my stepson’s suicide to the group. I didn’t want to talk with anyone who was emotionally involved. Liz and Rachel opened a door for me to write more. They showed me the possibilities of something bigger.

Rachel: Intimacy develops in a small circle of friends. It’s always amazing what you learn. Diane wanted us to talk with her as a poet. We have made an investment in one another. That allowed this door to open.

Diane: Zoom didn’t get in the way of intimacy for us.

Liz: My poems have become more courageous because of this group. I bring writing about an experience that is very vulnerable, knowing this vulnerability will be held tenderly. It can be tricky [to hold this space for vulnerability] while commenting on what works and what doesn’t.

Rachel: If it hadn’t been for this “greenhouse,” if they [Liz and Diane] hadn’t been nurturing me along, I wouldn’t have been able to write this song [“Hymn for America” in response to George Floyd’s murder]. My whole city [Minneapolis], the whole country was unravelling. I could go to my poetry as a way of conversing with it all, which felt like a gift in the midst of everything. 

-Compiled by Rachel Gabriel.

Diane Glass loves reading poetry, and during a Right Livelihood Professional Training offered by TLAN founder Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer, she discovered how much she loves writing it. RLPT’s encouragement and that of her two poetry partners, Liz and Rachel, has resulted in a poetry book released this month, The Heart Hungers for Wildness, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Diane published a memoir as well, This Need to Dance, her story of growing up with spina bifida. Diane completed the TLA certificate and considers this organization her tribe. http://www.dianeeglass.com. 

Liz Burke is a poet, interdisciplinary educator, and writing coach passionate about narrative and arts-based approaches to personal and social transformation. She works with adult students, working-class identified groups, university faculty, LGBTQIA+ communities, women living with the aftermath of sexual assault and harassment, feminist activists, and poets/writers of all kinds. She serves as the TLA Network’s Board Chair. 

Rachel Gabriel is a multi-disciplinary artist in word, image, and song. Her work as a writer and teaching artist have been honored by The Loft Literary Center where she’s shared a passion for creative writing and literature with youth and adults since 2007. She was awarded a residency at The Ragdale Foundation for her novel in-progress, and has published prose and poetry in several anthologies. In her creative work, Rachel explores topics such as spirituality, gender equality, and phenology. Her outreach and consulting work includes facilitating creative process and development workshops for intergenerational groups or private clients. She is an apprentice in book arts and bibliotherapy, and continues to develop curricula which weaves together creative expression with spiritual wellness. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, son, and daughter. In her opinion, a perfect day includes a walk in Paris, painting by Lake Superior, and dancing in the kitchen.

Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright, and engaging workshop leader who guides new and experienced writers to aim for astonishment, reclaim their imaginations, and generate enlivening writing experiences. Her Aim for Astonishing photo-inspired process elicits profound personal awakenings, deepens connection with others, and fosters beautifully crafted writing in poetry and prose. Author of three poetry collections, Kelly is also author ofBefore You Forget— The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children. She produces the Our Voices Festival of Boston Area Women Playwrights, held at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year, and she produces the annual Boston Writing Retreat and the weeklong summer Play Lab for the International Women’s Writing Guild, where she serves on the board. Kelly founded the Farm Pond Writers Collective to guide women writers to write from their personal photos, develop their artistic voices and connect deeply with their creative lives. Kelly inspires readers of #NewThisDay – her daily photo-inspired blog – with her mindful reflections on a writing life. www.kellydumar.com

Meet the teacher: Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

Who is Yvette Angelique? Yes, you have niceties in the bio, but who I am is a more profound question.

I am first an artist. I always have been since a little girl playing the organ, then guitar, songwriting, letter writing, poetry, and essay. As I grew professionally in and out of my artwork, I became a strong facilitator of groups and a trainer. This path led me toward all sorts of incredible corporate and community work.

… I always wanted … to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams

But what I always wanted was to live an interdisciplinary life at the intersection of art, activism, and teaching. I’ve achieved that sweet spot and wish to share my path with others who are thinking about who they are as an artist, how they engage in uplifting their communities, and how they pass on their skill and talent so that others can grow and thrive. 

What is your passion? I have a few! One of my passions is to disrupt the starving artist narrative. As a TLA practitioner, I work on my art, activism, and educate/coach others in a one-on-one capacity, as a facilitator of teams, and as a teaching artist with womxn and girls.

There is enough work in the world for all of us.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

I am clear what I run as a business is a social arts practice where my time creating new art and engaging with others on social justice issues is healing, creative, and transformational. There is enough work in the world for all of us. 

What are your most recent projects? For many of us, this year has been a source of disruption and anxiety-making time. And when space and time wrinkles in this way, it pushes us (and me) into expanding creativity to see what else is possible. Right before the pandemic began to peak in March, I had completed an EP digital chapbook, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues. It was a fantastic creative project where I blended old and new poems and invested in professional recording time to deliver the product. I was invited by the University of North Florida’s Creative Writing Program to be a guest artist for 2020 on their Eat Poems platform www.eatwords.net. The EP is available for listening on the Eat Poems site and can be purchased via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

Last fall, I enjoyed an art residency with Joy Harjo, our U.S. Poet Laureate, as an associate artist. I learned SO much in the small community of poets and the broader community of musicians, theater, dance, and visual artists. The time was freeing and intense. I came back home mid-November and started to work on the digital EP.

Another goodie I started last year and picked up again this year is facilitating girls in the juvenile justice system to write and tell their stories. After writing their stories, they perform them as monologues or like “Ted Talks.” They perform their stories for an audience of leaders in the community who touch their lives: law enforcement, state’s attorney, detention center personnel, social workers, advocates, etc. Through their storytelling, they have been able to make an impact by expanding the mindset of the realities of their experiences and influencing changes in policies and practices. Last year, several state attorney office rules changed to reduce harm due to the girls’ work. 

What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living.

YVETTE ANGELIQUE HYATER-ADAMS

What excites you about teaching this class? I am excited to work with folx who are artists, facilitators, community organizers, and cultural workers interested in using their art to engage in community healing and transformation. What is essential to know is that the work of healing and transformation is real work where TLAers can earn a living. I refer to this work as a social arts practice. Use the time spent in this class to take a more in-depth look at what you offer and ways to strengthen your practice earning potential. Unpacking your skills, focusing on who you serve, understanding needs and what you offer—these are the key components to developing your social arts practice into a viable business. 

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams’ latest class for the TLA Network, “Leverage Your Expertise as a Social Arts Practice, for Community Engagement, & Radical Livelihood,” begins November 4.

Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams, MA-TLA, is the Principal and Chief Storytelling Officer at Narratives for Change. Yvette Angelique is a poet, teaching artist, and proven culture change strategist. Yvette’s recent artistic work includes: a digital poetry chapbook book, Something Old, New, Borrowed, and The Blues; a poetry chapbook, Shut Eyes See; and storytelling performances–See the Girl Monologues, and Europa: Zora Neale Hurston, Carlos Santana, and Me. Her poems appear in journals and anthologies, and her essays and book chapters contribute to the discourse on transformative language arts for personal and social change. Yvette teaches creative writing and storytelling to heal, create literary art, for consciousness-raising and advocacy. She is on the editorial board for the international publication Practising Social Change. She is Chair of the Board of Directors for Alternate Roots, a longtime organization for Southern artists and cultural workers.

October Notes

Dear TLA Community:

We are pleased to announce a series of fall offerings geared towards bringing our community together. The series, TLA in Action: Connection, Collaboration & Communityis designed to showcase some of the important work TLA Network members are doing across a variety of fronts, while offering affordable options that are welcoming and inclusive of all. The series will culminate in a special evening of poets, storytellers, and other TLA artists sharing their work in early December. We hope you will join us in celebrating our community’s many strengths and talents!  

Art matters, and art matters especially in this time. Art helps us be part of the world, process what is happening, understand, grieve, and bring people together towards collective action. As ever, we strongly believe that cultivating a powerful voice in this complicated, challenging time, and using that voice for the greater good, deeply matters. 

Find your voice, make meaningful art, and work for the greater good. 

To the Power of Words,  
Hanne Weedon
Managing Director, TLA Network

August notes

Dear TLA Community:

We hope you and your loved ones are doing well during these long, hot, summer days.

As might be true for you, we have been deeply inspired recently by the power of words in these most troubling times. U.S. Congressman and longtime civil rights activist John Lewis wrote an important essay to our nation recently, published widely on the day of the Congressman’s funeral last week. Congressman Lewis’ words are a testament to the power of a deeply compelling call to action embedded in meaningful context – the very essence of the power of words. If you have not yet seen it, you can read the full text of the Congressman’s transformational message here.

We know many of you in the TLA Network are finding ways to use your voices to help raise awareness, offer perspective and understanding, and help guide our communities toward healing and hope. What are the words that have inspired you recently, that remind you to be your biggest, boldest, most courageous self, that keep you focused on your vision and your work in these challenging times?

We continue to be dedicated to growing the transformative language arts – empowering each of us to find and use our biggest voices to effect the change we wish to see in the world. As John Lewis so eloquently wrote, “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

To the Power of Words,  

Hanne Weedon, TLA Network Managing Director

Masks, Capes and the Strength to Smile, by Lyn Ford

The times we’re living in are, at the least, confusing. We’re safe if we’re stuck at home. Some of us are working and worrying, some of us are burdened with lost work and worrying, all of us are facing an unhealthy, viral fear for others’ wellbeing as well as our own, and–wait for it–worrying. 

It’s empathetically important to be concerned for ourselves and others right now, but all this safe distancing and masking takes its toll. We miss hugs, family visits, physical face-to-face conversations, screen-free smiles and up-close laughter. The concerns of our times require approaching each day with the gravity, information, and common sense that will get us through this novel coronavirus pandemic. But who wouldn’t love to feel weightless for a while?

Weightless. Flying above all this trouble. Superheroes, wearing capes and tights instead of masks as we do what we can to save the world, our efforts accompanied by our own, powerful theme songs. 

Superheroes, smiling, even though it may be concealed behind our masks.

This week, and in the weeks to come, we can dare to be our own superheroes. If we must wear annoying yet protective garments and gear over our faces, we can don our imaginary capes, too. We don’t have to wear the tights–who needs more pressure? Let’s figure out our superpowers, some way to help others. Let’s find or create our own theme songs, and do some little thing that makes us smile, like dancing in pajamas or writing and sending letters or giggling with our goldfish. 

In these serious times, we need to experience the freedom and joy of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Finding ways to smile is one of the healthiest things we can do. Daring to laugh, just because we can, is uplifting and fulfilling. 

This challenge might become our origin story, the starting point for a new chapter. We face the challenge by staying healthy, optimistic, and resourceful. And it’s okay to occasionally feel helpless. Superheroes have weaknesses, but we acknowledge them, work beyond them, and develop some strategy that keeps us going.

We can wear those masks and smile behind them. We can wash our hands while we sing our theme songs. We can be the joy that gives others strength when they hear our voices.

We should thank the superheroes who are risking their lives to provide services and care. And we should be superheroes ourselves while we’re safe at home.

“Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: it’s good to be silly at the right moment.” (Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem; dulce est desipere in loco.) – Horace