Smoke on the Water: a poem by Lisa Paige

Editor’s note: Lisa Paige recently completed the TLA Foundations class as part of TLAN’s certificate program. In the class, students are given weekly prompts to which they may respond in any form they feel called to. The following is Lisa’s reflection on both this aspect of the class and the poem it inspired. The poem itself was in response to the July 2021 Oregon wildfires.

Participating in a TLAN course has opened my eyes to the unpredictable responses to prompts; not so much from others, because I expect that, but from myself! Who knew that after a reading for a class on facilitating writing workshops I would write a poem? It flowed like a waterfall when I had believed I was in a drought.

Experiencing the very thing we hope our workshop participants will has been the best inspiration to continue the work I’ve just begun engaging in with TLAN.

And now, humbly, my poem.

Smoke on the Water

The sky turned gray tonight. 
Oregon’s smoke reached New England, 
lapping at me like a needy puppy or
maybe more a teething bitch.

She stole the sunset, 
swirling in secretive 
ghostly spirals 
atop the pond. 

“See me?” she said,
susserating.

Once, the sky looked gray to me even on the sunniest of days. 
Now, my bright light shines even in the darkest night.
Once, I had little energy for the troubles of others -- 
never mind strangers living on a distant coast. 
Now, with every leaf that ignites in Oregon, 
I lose a part of my soul.

So is this day gray? 
Or light?

Through the clouds of Mother Earth, 
I reach for hope. 
If my life could be saved, 
so too can our home.

Lisa Paige’s essays and features have been published widely; she also ghostwrites, edits, teaches writing for wellness workshops, coaches teen writers, and is at work on a YA novel manuscript. www.insightlearning.co

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Spotlight on the Keynote: Javier Zamora

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States in 1999 when he was nine—traveling unaccompanied 4,000 miles, across multiple borders, from El Salvador to the US to be reunited with his parents. Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017), his first poetry collection, explores how immigration and civil war have impacted his life and family. This collection won the 2018 North California Book Award, the 2018 Firecracker Award, and was a finalist for the 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Años Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts contest. 

In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts Works Blog, Zamora states, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words.” 

After selecting Javier as winner of the 2017 Narrative Prize, co-founder and editor Tom Jenks said: “In sinuous plainsong that evokes the combined strengths, the bright celebrations, and the dark sorrows of two Americas sharing and transcending borders, Javier Zamora’s verse affirms human commonality and aspiration.”

Zamora holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied and taught in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program and earned an MFA from New York University. His poems have been featured in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New York Times, and many others. Zamora has received many honors, including a 2015 NEA fellowship, the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and the 2017 Narrative Prize. In 2016, Barnes & Noble granted the Undocupoets, of which he’s a founding member, the Writer for Writers Award for working to promote undocumented or previously undocumented writers. Most recently he was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University, where he was working on his memoir and second collection of poems. He lives in Harlem, NY.

Along with U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, spoken word artist Lyla June, and poet Caits MeissnerJavier Zamora will keynote the TLA Network’s Power of Words Conference, to be held online October 28-31, 2021. 

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