Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A wordle from the Poplargrove Muse.

We're taking a breather for a few days while we summon the writing muse. Here's a little wordle we made from this blog. It seems to fit with our mission well.

Happy Holidays from the Poplar Grove Muse and Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington

Monday, December 21, 2009

Marking the Solstice

Dec 21, 2009

The shortest day, the longest night.
I let go of the darkness and turn again to the light.

Tonight I look into my own darkness, mark its depth. “Be not afraid,” the angel of my inner-self whispers. I have been afraid. Afraid of bullies in the workplace, afraid of too many others’ opinions, afraid of letting go.

The darkest nights are cold and long, but often with the best views of the vast emptiness. Fear threatens emptiness, but it is not emptiness that I dread. Emptiness is a fertile bed, resting in winter, preparing for the spring planting of conscious choice.

I hold a spirit of thankfulness tonight for the emptiness. I am thankful for the courage to let go of what I really fear. I express gratitude for the creation of space. As I turn toward the light, I will watch the color rise across an open chamber.

--Stephanie, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Thanks! Definitely NOT a Poem

Help everywhere: healing hands, ears that listen, hearts that receive me as I am.
The empty page, pendulum swing of desolation to dancing words, then laying that all aside.
Little white lights on a ceiling. A candle flame.
Food when I’m hungry. Coffee in the morning. The cup. The Spoon. The color of cream.
A touch on my shoulder. My pillow at night.
Reading glasses in every room. Cell phone silenced.
Marimbas in June.
A crack in the window. Fresh air rushing in.
Flowers on the table. Music to play. Fingers to play with.
Teen curfews honored.
Dogs underfoot, in my lap, on the bed --never far from my mind.
Good books to read.
Children running through.
Work that asks something of me and gives more back in return.
Mentors and partners all the people I love.
The mud, the stars, the sun, the moon. Lucky Charms on the countertop (at noon).
It was a good year.
Of comings and goings --standing still, stepping up, gathering in and letting go.
To my many families and circles of connection, I’m most grateful.
Bright Blessings to each of us. Another year ends.
Beginner beginning -- I begin again.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse 12/14/09

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Times!

Thanks to all who turned out at Rachel's Cafe on Saturday night to help us celebrate 5 years of Women Writing for(a)Change in Bloomington. We had quite a crowd to celebrate all the words and stories and poems (not to mention laughter and goodwill) that have been generated through the years.

We passed out our new anthology, ate some wonderful food served by Rachel herself, read poetry and listened to several alums of our programs read from the new book. Veda, pictured right, read her poem Where I'm from modeled from a poem by George Ella Lyon of the same name

As I laughed and listened, I couldn't help but fall in love with the community we have built. The women in our circles are remarkable in their diversity. We are young and old; gay and straight; black and white; amateurs and professionals. Our common love for words and storytelling and our newfound love for each other keeps us in each other's circles of care. I can't imagine a better group of people with whom to spend my time.

Pictured above are Beth, myself and Lauren, editors of the book and founder of Women Writing for (a) Change in Bloomington.

One of the most exciting parts of the evening was people's joy at the book that came out. Women milled about the party, new books in hand asking for signatures from each other. It was like yearbook signing in high school. I wished I had a witty quip to write under my name, but truthfully all I could think of to say was, "Thank you."

Pictured below is Steph as she steps off the dais after reading.
It is amazing how words create memories and intimacies between writers and readers. Between friends.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our book has arrived!

I raced to the Poplar Grove school house last Sunday to be one of the first people to see the book that we have put together celebrating 5 years of Women Writing for (a) Change in Bloomington. Women with Wings features many women from the Bloomington School and from the circles we hold at the Monroe County Corrections Center for incarcerated women.

One of the exciting things for me was how much a labor of our community the book became. In addition to all the contributions by all the fabulous writers and getting the opportunity to work with Lauren (my co-editor) and Beth (the owner of the school who gave gracious blessings to our project), our cover designer and cover artist were both writers from the community. Thanks to Kim Evans and Yvonne Wittmann! Rebekah, Wednesday night writer, helped us with the books and accounting. The publishers, Paul and Dee Burt from Pen and Publish, helped us bring this book to reality. The day it was set to arrive from the printers fellow writers Kim and Greta tag teamed staying at the schoolhouse to make sure UPS didn't send it back to the warehouse. David and Joan Foor White from New Leaf; New Life very generously donated money so that each women from the corrections center who had a piece in the book could have one of her own . Deb Morrow, also from New Leaf; New Life helped me track down all the women from the jail so that I could write them and thank them for their contribution and send them the book. Rachael, of Rachel's cafe, is catering a fabulous party for us in celebration of our 5th anniversary. Beth's husband Dan is going to play piano for us at the party. Friends are stepping forward to buy books. The list of support in this town is endless.

I feel so proud to be part of such an amazing community where writing and arts are part of everyone's life and where people care for each other and hold each other up to celebrate. Thanks Bloomington. Thanks Women Writing for (a) Change. Happy 5th Birthday to the Bloomington School. I look forward to many more years of writing in community with some of the finest women and men I know.

Please drop me a line if you would like to purchase a book. They are $15 plus tax and any money we make over and above the cost of the book will help us pay for scholarships for girls and women.

Write me at:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in November Poetry Detectives met at the Poplar Grove School to detect and uncover truths and insights into four selections. We discussed the lyrics to "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, the poem "Kitchenette Building" by Gwendolyn Brooks, hip hop lyrics to "Release Part 2" by Saul Williams and "What's Hard Core?" by K'Naan. Underlying themes were poverty and survival, hope and hopelessness. Through the magic of we were able to hear each artist perform their work, which enhanced our appreciation of their pieces and, in some cases, answered quesitions. As writers and avid readers we all know that intent is not always knowable. And that makes for some deep digging and lively discussions.

I would like use this forum to thank everyone who has joined Poetry Detectives and helped to make it everything and more than I hoped for. Each one of us shares a love of poetry and many of us are a little intimidated by it. A group discussion gives us an opportunity to explore all kinds of poetry and benefit from each other's insights. It's fun when someone has an aha! moment for poetry can be very mysterious and it's golden when a nugget of truth is excavated.

I'm looking forward to more adventures in poetry with all of you and anyone who would join us in the future. We've had some requests for future poems/poets for discussion. For me, one the most exciting parts is researching and choosing material for discussion. So let's keep on digging and soon Fear of Poetry will be no more!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Plum Hat

I knitted this hat last week. It’s for a baby due in February, already much beloved by an entire congregation devoted to the eager parents.

I have had various periods of knitting, and non-knitting, in my life.
When I was 9 or 10, my wonderful widowed maternal grandmother and her unmarried sister, who lived and worked (hard) together, took my sister and me to pick out yarns and start afghans. I, alas, picked an electric turquoise that quickly transformed from my favorite color to a color I couldn’t bear to look at, much less knit with. My beloved, industrious great aunt knit that one, and presented it finished to me. But I did learn to knit.

In high school, I mastered knitting the two-needle mitten, creating them for everyone I could think of. I loved how you knitted this abstract formula, then sandwiched it together, sewed it up, and a human hand, or the ghost of one, magically appeared from two dimensions. One of my life mantras at the time was that everyone should have hand-knitted red wool mittens made for and presented to them at least once in a lifetime, and I distributed them in all sizes to everyone I thought might actually wear them.

Living in England after college, I was re-inspired by the most creative knitter I have ever known (a true textile artist who can knit in the dark and while multi-tasking and design her own garments on the fly), as well as by the fabulous array of yarns and patterns not yet trendy or available on this side of the Atlantic. Knitting was a lovely social pastime, best enjoyed over multiple cups of strong tea in a chilly four-storey Victorian on the edge of Port Meadow outside Oxford.

This knitting industry carried over into graduate school, for a while, when I specialized in sweaters, and then into the child-bearing years of those around me, resulting in adorable fruit hats of every hue, and afghans, and woolen cabled fisherman baby sweaters that I didn’t realize weren’t practical until I had my own babies and tried to put them into one.

But for some years, now, the knitting has been sporadic at best. I watch little television, the perfect accompaniment to knitting, and don’t spend much time sitting down, except behind a steering wheel or computer. Besides, my vision is not what it once was.

So I was truly taken aback at how destructive the disruptions of my multitasking mother-mid-life are to knitting. I was knitting the hat on four short double-pointed needles, and THREE times picked up the hat and began knitting backwards, counterclockwise, knitting on the purl side, so that I had to backtrack and tear out and pick up and carry on, chastened by my diminished knitting powers. It was hard to stay on task, and still feel like I was attending to the expectations I have created around me. I miss the days where I could focus on one thing at one time and create something beautiful or adorable in a straight line and not feel compromised by it.

Something to aspire to, again, in time.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Half Empty Half Full

In the dark of night I wake up wondering whether my nest is half full or half empty. This nest I’ve feathered and re-feathered for 20 years with an abundance and ambivalence of love, soft place to land for my girl-children who filled up the nest with their silk scarves, ribbons, and battered baby dolls, their jelly shoes, and spangled headbands, OPI nail polishes, zit concealer, razors, tampons, crumpled school notes, rogue, earrings and socks and borrowed sweats, bathing suits, goggles, fins, schoolbooks, and fat copies of every edition of Harry Potter and Twilight…this nest …is missing one of four who inhabited it…leaving three of us behind and one of the three, in so many ways, her other half.

She had the audacity to grow up and want to go to college. So she did. And like most stoic mother birds, when it was time, I knew it was time. And in spite of a few secretly shed tears,I know the privilege and relative safety of her flight plan. I know too, that this is only one of many phases of leave-taking that began with her first steps away from me in the departing flights corridor of the Raleigh/Durham airport 18 years ago. Then she ran in her tiny red leather shoes with abandon, uncanny coordination and sense of sureness before she was 1. She’s still in possession of those qualities. I know she’ll be back soon.

In the presence of all of her left behind stuff and silence, I feel the absence of her. In the absence of her, I feel the presence, to a celebratory degree, of her younger sister. So it goes. My nest is half empty and certainly half full. Life these days is half as noisy, half as full of teenagers, half as worried at midnight.

But I wake to the sound of half as many children in my house and the sound of my middle aged mother's heart beating the rhythm of love and loss and the promise of birdsong in the morning.
Beth Lodge-Rigal 11.20.09

On the Muses Summer Vacation

…kind of Algonquin Roundtable meets Outward Bound meets St. Barts. The muses lounge around all morning in their slippers and lacy robes, a dip in the pool, followed by a pedicure and a massage. Then after a lunch of dainty finger sandwiches and iced tea, they change into some rougher clothes, take a last longing look at the shining pool and head out into the world, unseen by humans. They gather inspiration food to feed us throughout the coming year. They witness glaciers melting and puppy mills and the officer issuing parking tickets. They go by twos to refugee camps and domestic abuse shelters and brothels and they cannot help but witness hunger which paints a hole on their soul that can never close. They watch the thresher take down big rows of wheat in the breadbasket of America and they watch the rice begin to blossom on the terraced steps of China. They watch winter spring summer and fall each take root and slough off the season that came before.

The muses especially like trees in full bloom and fireworks.
They like the sound of
ocean waves and clear black starry nights. They like to hear poetry and garage bands and Gregorian chant but they also fill up with sound of lonely crying and the dull thud of the printing press as it churns out a nights worth of the morning edition.

They arrive back at the pool where they are served a lavish feast of roasts and potatoes and cheese fondue and chocolate cakes frosted with butter cream and coconut. The feast bends and stretches the table it is served upon, but the muses, your muse, never eats a single bite. They simply desire all the food in front of them and it is that craving that keeps them alive and ready to fill you with creative impulse. In fact, on the years that your muse appears to be AWOL, he probably broke down and ate the beef bourguignon and forgot why he came. Like you, food does that to a muse.

And with that ache in their belly, they prepare to leave summer vacation, return to you and spend another year inspiring you to bare your soul, dig deep into your memory and rise up with poetry, sculpture, a new aria or simply great metaphors. If you are lucky enough to be invited on the muses summer vacation you might be asked to stick around for their closing cocktail party where you often hear the muses make comments like this:

“I cannot come up with one more metaphor for love. Why can’t humans just get over this love thing? Once Elizabeth Barrett Browning counted the ways that should have been enough.”

“…so dense. I have been knocking and waving and whispering and he still thinks he is an accountant. I think I am going to have to drop an impressionist painting on his head. What does it take?”
“I am all for giving muses of poets special privileges. I would never want that job. Special people those poetry muses. All that dreck. One artist’s teen years would have me in a straight jacket.”

Perhaps you are frustrated when your muse leaves you.
Perhaps you beat your head to your keyboard begging her to return, say hail Mary’s to the blank sheet of paper, get your haircut, drink too much peppermint schnapps and puke in the toilet. Know this dear writer, your muse loves you and wants to be there for you, but sometimes she needs a little vacati
on: a chance to run in daisy fields and drink absinthe by a roaring fire. Take a lesson from the lowly muse.

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Soul Card reflections from participants in our Fall 2009 Young Women's circle

The young women whose voices are represented in the soul cards below are in the 5th and 6th grade. Their read around on Sunday was an amazing collection of readings that they had prepared and shared as part of the completion of the fall 2009 young women's circle at WWfaC.

Gifts: A listening ear when no one else would, and that there is no right or wrong.Challenges: Learning to share personal things, and understanding that I will not be laughed at, and that what I wrote will not be spread as rumors.

There are many gifts. One is I got to express myself. I get to be me. Also it was a gift to be here and know everyone listens and doesn’t say anything bad, even if they do think it’s bad. I just love being able to be me.

The gifts in this class I’ve been given are uncountable. Friendship, words, and space are probably the main three. If only it went longer. There were so many words I felt I didn’t get to say. If only class were longer!

Gifts – Ears. Everyone has them. Knowing these girls use them, now that’s a gift. Hearing. Everyone can hear. Knowing these girls do. See. Everyone has eyes and eyesight. Knowing these girls use them in a way that speaks better than words.Challenge - ?

Gifts: The beautiful girls here, the power of a girl’s voice, the gentle writing, our words, just being here with everyone, and the love and gentle power of our circle.

The gifts I have experienced were making new friends, that is a really big gift for me because having friends is like power. I think power is a wonderful thing. ☺–

Gifts: I feel such a gift to be here, I hope I get to do the winter session! I will miss everyone!!Challenges: Nervous, a little bit!I hope to see everyone soon! ☺–

What a special group! The courage each girl brought, the willingness to share and learn, the journey we took together will always be in my heart. It has been a gift to witness each of you grow in your voice and writing. Thanks and love to you all!

I’ve loved this group of YWW Fall Writers. I’ve been amazed by the depth, courage, grace, and creativity of each girl here. I have learned a great deal and am honored and moved to be part of this circle.

Soul Card reflections from Read-Around listeners: Thanks so much for creating such a wonderful environment for everyone to write & reflect & explore.

This was a gift and I wanted to hear even more. The young writers expressed the richness and depth of well-lived and wise women. They each are a gift to the world.

My daughter gained confidence in expressing herself, as well as insight into herself.

Moving – touching – real – maturity in youth.

My gifts are numerous. When I did this before, I couldn’t believe the writing. Some of my friends read today I couldn’t believe the change. That was a gift.When I arrived, I thought that I was just a bystander, watching. But I know now that I am part of it. That is a gift.Today, everything was a gift, the writing, the words, the smiles, the frowns. Everything was a gift.

I am very impressed at the maturity displayed this afternoon by the young women here, and the sophistication in their writing. It seems, from the subject of the poetry and writing, that they have spent time here during the last 6 weeks discovering themselves. That’s a good idea for everyone, certainly for preteen girls who are going through a tumultuous time – bodies and minds growing and changing. This is a good example of why the arts are important. I have the feeling that all these girls are future leaders.

This was a beautiful experience. Thank you. These girls are courageous and creative. You do a phenomenal service for them in providing a safe place for them to be brave.

So good to hear our “younger sisters” telling their truths and sharing their voices. Thank you!
--Thanks to Kim Evans and the Young Women of WWfaC

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On your mark, get set, go...

It is November 1st and you know what that means! It is time once again for NANOWRIMO. We would love to hear from fellow writer's out there in NANO land who are attempting to write their novel in just one month--30 days.

If writing a novel in one month seems too about blog posting in one month? You can also participate in NABLOPOMO. (I understand that this is no longer strictly limited to November anymore.)

If you would like to blog about your manic novel writing experience or you just want to shout out that you are working on it...let us know. Contact Amy at:

Get ready to write...GO!

Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, October 26, 2009

Passing the Baton, er, Pen

I guess you could say my youngest is a charter member of Young Women Writing for (a) Change. She has been to every class or sampler yet offered. She loves the program, she reveres it, she truly “gets” what is being explored at a deeper level below the surface. She even gets the upper and lower case, and parentheses, right in the acronym for the organization….

After her very first sampler class, she came home, and wanted to host her own “sampler” class. (At that point, I think she thought “sampler” meant something like “writing,” an adjective modifying “class.”) She wanted to find a perfect vessel to hold soul cards and another to shelter a candle. She gathered a few friends together, and they wrote and talked and laughed (she has since learned not to invite the gigglier among her friends, having an innate sense of which friends are capable of sharing her reverence for this process, and which are not).

Last week, she wrote this for her weekly class school newsletter:

Young Women Writing for (a) Change
By Anna
I love to write. The words just flow out of my pencil onto the paper. And now, I have discovered a place where I can write with other people who like to do it. We do crafts and write and talk and eat snack! It’s really fun and that place is called Young Women Writing for (a) Change in the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse. It is run by supporting women from the women’s class called Women Writing for (a) Change. It’s great to be there with people who enjoy the same things as you and support you and your writing. I love to go there and just let the creative juices flow. Pick up your pen and choose a prompt or write whatever you want. Is there a mysterious door hollowed out in a tree yet to be discovered? Where do you come from? And let your inner self lie down in a creek and be covered by the cool and refreshing water that is writing. Bathe in it, bask in it. Be it.

I am so grateful to Beth, and now Kim and Greta, for creating this space (space in so many varied senses) for me to seek my voice, and now, for my daughter to do the same. Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wearing a Friend's Shoes

Last week I led my friend’s life. I stepped into her shoes, a different size than mine, and tried not to stumble. I remember organizing help, living communally, keeping people safe, sleeping little, balancing needs, opening to sorrow and joy, breathing in suspension, holding tight, and letting go. I cared for her special-needs child. She regularly does all these things, with grace. I did it for one week, clumsily, while she lived through other crises of life and death.

No longer did normal things matter, like whether I’d eaten, put on deodorant, or brushed my hair. I was happy to brush my teeth. To be honest, I had moments of self consciousness (“What did I smell like?!”), but mostly not. I was too tired and too focused to care. It was a gift, this sense of freedom. Freedom from my ego and my insecurities (well, mostly). I was also challenged. The line between things that didn’t matter and true needs blurred. I neglected to eat and then crashed. I didn’t take a break when I really needed one.

This experience was like a bubble: fragile, beautiful, sticky, and short-lived. After the crises passed, I slowly laced up my own sneakers. I began to process what I felt. I walked back to my life. My friend returned to her daily, daunting routine.

I write now, frantically, in my journal. I rage at an unfair world. I express thanks for my life’s blessings. I sit, numb. I try to write something else, something more coherent. The writing helps me decide what to keep from this experience and what to release. I know my friend keeps a journal. I hope that she finds the time to write.

--Stephanie W., for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stillness... Subtleness... Patients
The woods of Southern Indiana moved deeper into their autumn turning this past week. It was a good time to run away for 36 hours with two friends of mine who, like me, and in spite of every reason to the contrary, decided it would be possible and necessary to step out of our lives together to get closer to our respective centers, get quiet, settle back and look up through the trees to some blue sky beyond, if only for a few hours. The intention was to retreat. We’d have two overnights and one long day in the forest, a cabin with the basic necessities, trails to walk and a large body of water near-enough by.

Our hurried, un- parallel lives moved us in disparate directions literally up to the moment I pulled up at C’s door and flung open the back of my van and said, “what can I load in for you”? L screeched up minutes later, we pushed in the last bag, and didn’t let out a collective sigh, until we passed the city limits heading south.

Our one-room rustic cabin, with an unprouncable Welsh name, is owned by the gentleman, B, an exuberant host whose wide-flung arms exclaimed the grandeur of the world he’d carved out of the Orange County wilderness and filled that space with gusto. His voice boomed a husky tenor with an accent indicating time spent for at least SOME part of his life in the big city…Chicago? New York? Boston? When we met him in his driveway, he’d just been hiking “St. Benedict’s Journey”, a ½ mile trail he’d hacked down to his little piece of big lake water which, we found out shortly, we’d need to DRIVE about 10 minutes to in order to walk .

Within the first moments of meeting him, we gathered that Mr. B is a Contemplative Businessman, who resonates especially with Celtic Spirituality. The spirit of St Benedict's Rule, summed up in the motto: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work"), was evident everywhere we turned. Like one of the several historical Saint Benedicts, our Mr. B had labored over his vision. He’d built bridges and pathways, benches and ballfields and posted signs everywhere to point the way. Between the signs to “Brigadoon”, Ty’tWen (?), the footpath and all the orange or pink plastic tape marking the short distances between trees from here to there, we were certain not to become lost in the yellow woods. Someone, we think we know who, had worked hard to point the way and invoke for us the spirit and names for “the all that is” in nature.

Turns out, we were never lost or never really alone so the idea of the retreat morphed gently for us in to a communal experience of stepping away together, and occasionally bumping into Mr. B. We three friends managed to magically show up with offerings for the group…food, drink, and open ears, yoga, music, major Girl Scout competencies all around. And for one day, we allowed time to pass without paying a bit of attention to time, easily following our inclinations for solitude, rest, talk, music. We each derived our own meanings and nourishment from our experience in retreat.

But the best was this:
As we walked St. Benedict’s Journey together we passed an abundance of Mr. B’s orange ribbon-marked trees, and every 300 yards or so, a sign posting a different word for contemplation: Stillness…Subtlety…Harmony…Peace…as we passed one of the last signs, we stopped to laugh and HAD to think : Patients, it read.

Beth Lodge-Rigal, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Books and Workshops and Poetry oh my!

For starters, we are excited to announce the publication of our anthology Women with Wings. The editors of this book have compiled writing by over 50 WWf(a)C Bloomington writers and are excited to present their poems, essays and short fictions in this amazing volume. There are over 75 short pieces which include writings from all five years of classes and retreats in Bloomington, as well as some writings of the participants in the women's circles we hold at the Monroe County Jail. WWf(a)C writers Kim Evans designed the beautiful cover and Yvonne Wittmann painted the bird image. This book reflects a multitude of creative talents found in our diverse and multifaceted community. We hope you will join us in celebrating 5 years of Women Writing for (a) Change-Bloomington.

(We plan to release the book officially on December 5, 2009 and are taking pre-orders now. If you would like to order a copy of this book before it goes to print, we can sell it for only $12. The the book release party it will be $15. Contact
us at: if you would like to order an advanced copy.)

Also, Women Writing for (a) Change is pleased to offer a day long memoir writing workshop called: Memory, Imagination and Writing: Telling our True Stories

At the Poplar Grove School house on Saturday, October 24th from 10-3 we will explore memories and turning them into our own unique stories. Email us at to reserve a space. We have about 4 spaces left.

Please join the Poetry detectives on the second Saturday of every month for a unique exploration of poetry. The next discussion is Saturday, November 14, 2009 from 10-12 at the Poplar Grove School House.

Watch our website for announcements of more classes and workshops and events. Also become a fan on facebook!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sky on Friday Morning

As I was driving into work on Friday morning, I enjoyed watching the sky. It had rained all night so the ground and trees were shiny with water. I drive to work facing west so the sun was shining on everything at which I was looking. Because there were a few clouds left in western sky, the sun created a kind of gold glow on black clouds. Everything: trees, flowers, houses, cars, all had a sparkly haze upon it. Everything was shiny and since fall is dawning, the barest hints of orange and red and brown were cueing up to take the stage.

I poked my son who was preoccupied with his game device. "Look up at the sky, isn't it amazing? Look at the way the sun shines off those black clouds. Look how everything is shiny and glistening. Isn't it like magic?"

He looks up at the sky away from his game and miraculously gives me his attention, and although I think he going to shrug and say so what, he humors me and says, "Yeah mom, it is really nice."

I say, "It is so beautiful, I would like to hug it or lick it. I want you to notice things like the sky. The sky is pretty important." I must sound desperate.

He says, "You know, mom, you can't touch the sky. It isn't really there."

"I know," I say. "When I was a kid and found out that you couldn't ever touch the sky, I was pretty bummed."

"Yeah, me too. How old were you when you found out?" he asked.

"Oh, I suppose I was 5 or 6."

"Too bad," he says.

"Too bad," I say.

We pause for a moment imagining a world where you can touch the sky and what it would feel like and taste like and would it return a hug? The sky is still beautiful and for these several moments in the car, my son and I understand each other.

How old were you when you realized you couldn't touch the sky?

--Amy Cornell for the Poplar Grove Muse

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What I Saw at the Stoplight

October 2nd, 2009
Rebekah Spivey

It is the end of a seemingly two week long week. I had worked a little late and then after running a mundane errand was headed south on College Avenue with nothing more on my mind than the salad I was having for dinner and the Netflix movie, Longford, I planned to watch, which as it turns out was an ironic choice.

It is 6:30 on a Friday night and I am in the middle lane headed south, second in line at the stop light where 7th Street crosses College. As I’m waiting for the light to change I look to my left and see a woman who appears to be in her late thirties. She is looking up and across the street at the Justice Building. She touches the left side of her chest where her heart is housed, then she cups her hand and extends her arm up to whoever is looking out a window and mouths the word love. She is trying to smile, but it is a pained smile, the kind that hides tears. She keeps making that gesture over and over, and then mouths I can’t hear you, and expands her arms as if wanting to embrace the person behind the window. I look up to try to see what the woman is seeing, but the windows with their glare stare back blankly at me. The light changes and as I drive on, I wonder if the person in the window is someone from our circle or is it a male, her lover or husband whom she misses and is willing to stand on a street downtown for just a glimpse of, is willing to profess her love on a downtown street, totally oblivious to her surroundings and those of us who noticed her.

I continue to think of her as I go about my evening, making my dinner, doing my laundry, and thinking of the people I love. The people I have unrestricted access to. People I can be alone with, touch and tell them I love them in private, sometimes intimate settings.

After dinner I watch Longford which is the story of Lord Francis Longford who spent fifty years of his life as a prison visitor in England and was a controversial advocate for prisoner’s rights. The part of his life the movie deals with is the period when he visited Myra Hindley, who along with Ian Brady was convicted of the mid-nineteen sixties Moor Murders. The pair killed and sexually assaulted five children and was universally hated in the United Kingdom. Although Longford’s advocacy on Myra Hindley’s behalf caused him public and personal pain, he stayed true to his mission of prisoner’s rights and fair treatment of them as human beings.

All of this brought me back to the woman on the sidewalk looking up to the third or fourth floor of a hard-lined stone building trying to send a message of love, which, in turn, brought me back to our mission as Women Writing For (a) Change facilitating circles in the MCJ for female prisoners. Will helping these women find their voices make them somehow stronger so that they will understand themselves and their choices better and perhaps, pull themselves out of the vortex that sucks them back to the jail time after time? The answer to that question may not be knowable, but if we keep going back month after month without any expectations as to outcome it’s possible that the Change in Women Writing For (a) Change might be happening in all of us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reverie Lost, and Regained(?)

I’ve been spending significant (for me) drive time in the car lately. When my oldest started middle school last year, with after-school extra-curriculars all year, I felt like I was entering a long, dark tunnel of chauffeuring—most of it east-west (the worst way in Bloomington)—that I wouldn’t emerge from until 2017 (her younger sister’s high school class). It made me just want to lie down and cry for our Cambridge days, when we walked the same infant child everywhere, taking the car out of the garage once a week for groceries from Star Market.

However, over some months, I have devised several strategies to improve the drive time:

When other drivers are crazy and erratic, I practice mindfulness, cultivating a sense that I can afford to be generous, patient, and safety-conscious, letting other cars in and stopping for pedestrians. In short, PRESUME GOOD WILL, the mantra of WWF(a)C. After a recent devastating student pedestrian death on campus, I am aggressively stopping for walking students, even as I fear it will make them ever less wary about the dangers they seem so oblivious to. It fills me with a genuine sense of gratitude and a desire to foster good will and protect my fellow vulnerable humans, and frequently leaves me calmer and more positive than when I climbed into the driver’s seat.

Another informal therapy I engage in while driving is NOT multi-tasking. I multi-task so intensively all the time “on the ground” that I often fail to listen to the very answers to questions I have solicited from my children. I almost never talk on the phone while driving, can’t focus on the GPS while navigating, and more and more often, don’t even turn on the radio, news junkie though I may be. Often, I will find myself entering the kind of open, “mental space” that I find essential to writing poetry, and have conceived a number of poems while driving. (Of course, even to note ideas briefly puts me back in the multi-tasking dilemma again, and many would-be-poems have been lost in traffic.)

Other days, I find blaring classic rock music with the windows open a fabulous way to regain the youth I never had in a car (so wedded was I to the red Raleigh Grand Prix bought with babysitting money that I swore I would never learn to drive or get a license). Cheap and effective therapy also.

On the carpool days, I get to listen in on the lives of my children and their friends, which is fantastically informative. (I am not so good at not entering the conversation, my daughters report with annoyance; several years ago, I asked my oldest which parent in a multi-family carpool was the best driver, in a general sense, and was told in no uncertain terms that the best is the best because she says nothing.)

Finally, I am endlessly fascinated by people, watching the worlds and populations I drive through. In recent years, I have felt somewhat sad at how many pedestrians are plugged in, listening to or talking with someone else instead of thinking their thoughts and allowing time for some precious reverie. I will always remember a handwritten letter I received in England from one of my dearest friends, recently returned to the States, in 1983. She wrote of her daily walk to and from Harvard Med School, and what she thought, and what she sang under her breath (Linda Ronstadt’s “I never will marry, I’ll be no man’s wife, I expect to live single, All the days of my life,” after a breakup with her old sweetheart).

My kids, hemmed in by an uncrossable state highway, walk very few places, although they have had the privilege of walking to a neighborhood elementary school and we water our dog around the neighborhood several times a day. I don’t walk many places either, for reasons of time and traffic and multi-tasking. In place of the reverie once enjoyed while walking through our lives, I’m trying to restore a new version in my car.

Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Is Blogging?

This blogging thing fascinates me. Part self-expression, part conversation, part art form, part media, and fully difficult to define. I’ve been blogging since April 2005. I still can’t articulate a precise definition.

My blogging has evolved. The journey started as an experiment. I had the assignment to develop blog training for my high-tech company. I had no experience with blogging and wanted some street cred, so I started a personal blog. I considered the blog a temporary trial. I never dreamed it would become what it has, an outlet for my creative energy and a community to support my passions. Over 800 posts later, I’m still going.

Interestingly, for me at least, I find it much harder to write a posting for this Poplar Grove Muse blog than for my own. For my personal blog, I churn out 3-4 postings per week without much trouble. For this blog, with a relaxed deadline of once per month, I struggle. What’s the difference? I don’t have to look far for an answer. It’s my perfectionist side: the good student, the editor, the sometimes-insecure adult who cringes from criticism. What if I have a misplaced comma or misspelled word? What if my message is lost? Or the ultimate fear for many bloggers – what if no one leaves a comment?

While I can’t draw and diagram exactly what blogging is, I can tell you clearly what it has taught me. Blogging is all about the raw, soulful story and the deeply personal snapshot of life. It is not about perfection. It is about heart, passion, wonder, struggle, life. Some of the most popular blogs are full of comma splices and spelling errors. My best blog postings have been written in a whirlwind of inspired heat. They make me nervous. They make me reach out and claim myself. Blogging has taught me to embrace my story, trust myself, and put it out there.

Stephanie Wilson, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Saturday, we spent the morning with Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver as part of the Poetry Detective Club’s new monthly initiative at the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse. Rebekah Spivey led us in discussion of two seemingly small poems.

For two delicious hours in the dappled morning light and shadows cast from our own Black Walnut Tree against the green walls of our meeting space, we basked in the profundity of simplicity, in the idea of poems as talismans.

The poems grew as we talked, expanding in many directions, taking us deeper –I dare say --into our own experiences of release and poetic sight. This felt like a “spirit bath” to me; soothing, stimulating, restorative on many levels.

We discussed “Let Evening Come”, Kenyon’s meditation on surrender. We talked about breathing rhythms, the psychic and bodily sensations we got listening and reading out loud, and the tensions created by carefully juxtaposed images. We teased out meanings. We discussed masculine and feminine energies held within the poem, and much more.

In Mary Oliver’s “Summer Poem”, we moved from the concept of surrender to the call to “sight” and the illustration of a kind of attention poets pay, not only to what they find right in front of them the moment they walk out their front doors, but in the making of poems. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a wonderful surprise found ; a form within the form in this poem near the end.

Check out the Poetry Detectives for details on when the group meets, copies of these poems, and more information on this new group. Join us on 2nd Saturday Mornings if you’d like to read and discuss poetry.

I offer here a poem of mine that Rebekah remembered. Mostly because she remembered it and then I read it and thought, well, it too illustrates a kind of seeing I aspire to cultivate over my lifetime.

Unnatural Order

Walking the border of stubbled cornfield
one day I looked up.
A grey-brown tangle of fur fluttered
from a high net of branches, flopped
lifeless, animal dish rag
tossed up to dry.

Tail rings identified,
the twist of her neck suggested
a quick though grizzly end.

I pondered from my place on the ground:
What could she have known of flight
washing her paws, minding her
own moonlit business there by
the stream?
What terror in the elevation,
her perilous decent?
What forces of night or miscalculating
bird of prey caught her
lifting her mask—
swooped down for the silver reflecting
from un-shaded eyes,
then realized, mid-air
what was too weighty for wings?

It comes to me now:
Foiled ambitions litter the canopies
of our lives
Every unexpected
turn of event,
a trembling song on the high wind. --Beth Lodge-Rigal

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Art Fair for Words?

Sitting outside at the WWf(a)C table on Saturday at the annual Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts made me think about how a festival of stories and poetry might look.

Of course, there are writer's conferences every where which feature public readings of fiction and poetry as well as workshops for aspiring novelists, poets and playwrights. But what about a beautiful tree lined street filled with tents and booths and inside would be a poet or a short story writer fingers posed on the keyboard, muse at the ready?

Or you would see samples of their words on the tent walls and you would order a poem for a special occasion or you would ask for a short story that featured and old woman and a yellow teapot. Perhaps some tents might have earphones that you put on and you would hear TS Eliot reading the Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock or Sylvia Plath reading from the Bell Jar. Another tent would be filled with picture postcards from the 1930s when people stuck a penny stamp on a picture of Yellowstone National Park and wrote a great sentence about the weather.

Another booth would be a circle of chairs with a candle burning in the middle, where women are furiously writing in notebooks and reading to each other from their fast writes.

Another tent would be short dramas for the young at heart and singer songwriters would be leading songwriting workshops. The tents would have to be further apart than at the art fair. It would prevent us from having to shout to be heard. The spoken word can be a delicate thing. I love the idea of a word fair. What kind of booth would you like to see there?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Women Writing and Women Dancing--Thrill the World

Looking for something unique? Like to Dance? Want to help a good cause? Want to figure out the best way to remember Michael Jackson but are just not sure how? I spent a few hours on Saturday afternoon learning to dance to the famous Michael Jackson song Thriller: the song that featured zombie dancing in the graveyard. If you came of age in the 80's you must remember where you were when this music video premiered on MTV. Michael Jackson songs, in fact, Thriller, provided the soundtrack to most of my high school years.

My dear friend Alice is rounding up as many of us as she can who are nostalgic for Thriller, zombies, Michael J, and 80's dancing to participate in Thrill the World 2009. The idea is that people from all over the world will gather in an appointed spot in their community to dance to Thriller at the same time. The goal this year is to get 270,000 people to dance the same dance and win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Anyone can join: kids, parents, zombies, 80s freaks, Michael J look-alikes. There are a few rehearsals between now and October 24th to actually learn the dance. I went to one today, and my kid and I had a great time. Alice knows how to teach the dance and by next week we should have it down.

Here in Bloomington Thrill the World will be a benefit for Middleway House. Participation is free but donations are accepted. We are fortunate to have this award winning and much needed service in our community. It would be great if Women Writing for (a) Change friends and fans would sign up and dance for a great cause.

Come on you know you want to!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Young women finding their voices...

How might your life have been different if, as a young woman struggling to find your voice…in despair that you might never be able to say what you knew inside…there had been a place for you to begin to speak as a woman?

If you had been received into a circle of women, and during the silence, the women had let you speak…had let you speak over and over, as your words slowly came together? If they had listened deeply and attentively to your emerging voice…had noted your tenacity and tenderness…your steadfastness and resolve.

And you had seen, in the faces of the women seated there in the circle…in the still older faces of the women standing slightly behind them in the shadows…the pride and respect the older women felt as they heard the truth in your young woman’s voice.

How might your life be different?
An excerpt from I Sit Listening to the Wind by Judith Duerk

* * * * *

I remember opening my very first diary on Christmas Day, 1975. It looked like a mini-bible with its black cover, gold-leafed pages, and tiny lock and key. I went back again and again to fill the blank pages in my journals of all sizes and shapes, my most trusted confidantes. These pages held sacred space for me to write down my innermost thoughts, yet my words remained pressed in the darkness between the pages, without air to breathe. There wasn’t much connection between this heart-writing and the writing I dared to share with the world, and like most girls approaching adolescence, I experienced a split from my true voice.

The vision of community Judith Duerk describes is now a reality for young women in Bloomington. Young Women Writing for (a) Change offers sacred space for girls to write, with the additional gift of a safe, boundaried community where they have the opportunity to share their words and hear them resonate in the “acoustics of intimacy.”

It’s hard for me to describe how I felt sitting in a circle with girls for our very first sampler class one year ago. When Greta lit the candle and started it around the circle, I delighted in watching each girl take her moment with the flame, needing no explanation about what to do or how to do it. We don’t dilute the rituals for the girls. Rituals tap into something deep inside each of us regardless of age – a desire to connect with ourselves.

I feel the presence of the larger community of women writers supporting these girls. And beyond that, like the “still older women” Duerk describes, I like to believe the women of Poplar Grove school stand in an outer ring of support in the shadows.Our first sampler led to a six-week winter class in 2009 with our pioneering group of six girls, which led to our first summer camp in July, with a group of nine girls, and myself, Greta, and Beth facilitating. With each circle, the wisdom that springs forth from these girls simply blows me away. It is so inspiring for me to witness girls creating community where each voice is honored and respected. It gives me great hope that they are acquiring tools they will carry with them as they navigate the circles of their lives.

We are now gearing up for our next sampler class on Sept. 20 followed by our six-week fall class beginning Oct. 4. Our hearts are open to any girl who might resonate with the Young Women Writing for (a) Change experience. Please help us get the word out.
Kim Evans for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women Writing for (a) Change with Men!

Many readers know that Women Writing for (a) Change has an outreach program for women in the Monroe County Corrections Center. We are now entering our fourth year of taking our unique writing program which celebrates women’s words and voices into the jail. The women have surprised us with their willingness to write and to share the pain and joy of their lives. We always feel honored to write and read in their company.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a writing circle into a men’s block. Addicts in Recovery (AIR) is a select group of men in the corrections center who have decided to focus on beating their addictions. The hope is that they will return to their lives on the outside and not go back to drugs or alcohol. This is no easy task for most of them.

A friend has been volunteering on this men’s block for the past several years, and invited us to come and write with them on a Saturday afternoon. We have a simple and elegant ritual when we write together: we pass a candle or some symbolic object to signify the beginning of the circle, we read a selected poem, in this case it was Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander, we check in and introduce ourselves, we go over agreements of the circle, and then we begin to write.

Afterwards we pass a stone, say our names and read what we have written back to each other. While we listen to each other we write down our favorite words and phrases that we hear in each other’s writing. At the end we echo those words back into the circle. It becomes a kind of group poem, and if you have ever been part of one of these circles you know it can be magical.

Each time you hear your own writing read aloud, or you read something and hear a shiver of recognition, you realize how writing and stories are an integral part of community. This men’s community was no different.

I told the men that the rules and rituals might be rather unusual, but they should lean into their discomfort and by the end the would enjoy the practices. I put a box of tissues out and they asked me what they were for. They were quite fixated on my tissues. I told then that often when in writing circles people would read painful things, and they might cry. They scoffed but, you guessed it, they needed Kleenex before the end of the afternoon.

The were all very earnest about their recovery and learning. They loved the poems and the writing prompts, and they shared some remarkable words and stories. One gentleman leaned over to me at the end and said, “I thought that passing the bowl was crazy, but you were right, I loved it by the end. I got it.”

The men’s and women’s circles weren’t so different from each other. All seemed absorbed by past mistakes and wanting to understand and make amends. All seemed to enjoy the writing and the words. All were touched by each other's stories, a shared moment of recognition, a little laughter, some pats on the back, regrets, lists of things they miss, tears...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Laura Ingalls Wilder in the New Millenium

I grew up in South Dakota, my roots are there, my relatively uncomplicated childhood was spent there, my parents returned there after a 10-year sojourn through increasingly larger Midwestern cities and live there still. My mother read the Laura Ingalls Wilder canon to me before I was up to it myself; I then read every volume by myself several times before my amazing fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Ada Armin (with whom I still correspond, recently profiled at 92 in the local paper as an outstanding lifelong teacher), read the whole set to our class before packing us allon a bus in the spring of 1970 for the 100-odd mile trip to De Smet to see “The Little Town on the Prairie” for ourselves.

I envision the visit through a haze of dust and heat. It was a hot, dry day as we viewed the Ingalls homestead and the historic town buildings we all knew well from the narratives we had been steeped in. I felt a kindred spirit with Laura and her family in the heat, as they beat off their plague of grasshoppers and turned green tomatoes into “apple” pie. (Although I remember finding the race to braid enough wheat into thick strands that would yield a bit of warmth in a blizzard much more exciting.)

I loved these books. Although I would not have identified it this way, they spoke to me of the importance of daily work, of the grounding pleasures and exigencies of routine, of a young girl learning and relearning to keep the essential aspects of life in focus, no matter what her peers might do or say. I found the details of daily life, of making butter and washing clothes and improvising meals from what lay at hand endlessly fascinating, and not so far removed from the prairie experiences of my older immediate family and friends.

I tried several times to engage my modern, suburban daughters in these books I had loved, the very set I read myself 40 years ago. They so wanted to please me, they so wanted to love what I had loved as a girl, but it just didn’t take, and sleep invariably overcame them. The chapter that finally did us in was “The Long Rifle,” detailing the endless and essential maintenance of this indispensable tool, always perched pragmatically above the doorframe. It provided the Ingalls family with food, protected them from predator wolves and wildcats (or Indians, although Pa’s decency always seemed most effective in that instance), required such laborious processes as making bullets by melting lead and pouring it into a fascinating set of tiny molds; it literally put my daughters to sleep.

The challenge of raising daughters in a culture that sends them so many confusing and conflicted messages is not new. Mine have not had an easy time finding books that speak deeply to them about strong, confident, interesting girls making their way in the world. (Although Harry Potter, decent, morally courageous, and “relatable,” whose bedrock friendship is with a whip-smart, fiercely loyal, girl friend, Hermione Granger, has been a powerfully positive influence.) My charter YWWF(a)C daughter has for some years, however, cranked out fiction at a steady rate, and who knows where that may take her, and us?

Mary, for The Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Short Story Contest from NPR

National Public Radio has announced round 2 of their summer 3 minute fiction contest. This is a perfect format for novice writers as well as seasoned professionals. Entry is free and you win the chance to have your story read on the radio. Check out the winners from round one before you enter. Round 2 has a twist to it. Three minute fiction is less than 600 words. The deadline is August 25th. Ready, set, go!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer 2009, WWF(a)C Retreat

It’s the first evening of our summer, 2009 retreat at St. Mary of the Woods. As the opening circle unfolds, I experience visions of color. Like the fabrics of a scrap quilt, each woman in our group of 13 brings a unique intensity and texture to the retreat circle. One woman is bright orange, another soft pink. A calico, a graphic print. Our words piece together, forming a beautiful quilt of diversity and organic harmony.

Beth has chosen a theme of change. As always, I find the topic to be both inspiring and confounding. I teeter on the thin wire – arms out for balance – deciding if I will skate across or let myself fall deeply into my truths.

I spend the next morning writing in my room. It is spacious, simply appointed, with a comfy rocking chair and a large window looking over a grassy field. After lunch, I find a quiet bench outside in what feels like my very own hobbit hole. I write until our group meets at 2 pm. I should be more precise. I write, I wander, I doodle, I daydream, I snap photos, I think about decisions that need to be made, I write some more.

Magic happens here. For example, during an evening stroll several of us encounter a security guard. “Are you the writers?” he asks. In unison we proclaim, “Yes!” That was a shining moment. Not a single voice hesitated. We are writers.

We continue our after-dinner walk to the cemetery, a sea of sisters. Their tombstones glimmer in the moonlight. Whether by night or day, St. Mary of the Woods is full of secret gardens and quiet nooks. There are chapels of iridescent shells, faces carved in stately poses, limestone covered in verdant green moss, and that cemetery of whispering stories. I find muses hiding in the boughs of trees, the robes of bronze saints, and the voices of quiet stones. I do some of my best writing here.

With no irony, St. Mary of the Woods has become sacred to me. I love it for the gorgeous grounds, the progressiveness of the nuns, the writing circle, Beth’s leadership, and the beautiful women who glow as they proclaim “We are writers!”

Stephanie, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Poetry Dectectives Clues

Last Saturday was our Poetry Detectives Sampler. And I'm deeming it a rousing success! We had nine (including myself) poetry enthusiasts in attendance. We opened by each person talking a little about their own interest in poetry, their first memory of poetry and what they hope to get out of Poetry Detectives.
We discussed two poems. The first one was Fast Car, a song, by Tracy Chapman and the second one was kitchenette building by Gwendolyn Brooks. Everyone had insightful and illuminating comments. We compared the two poems in which poverty was at the heart of each. We also discussed a little about the background of each poet.
I'm very excited about this project and look forward to many happy hours of discussing poems and poets. Our next meeting will be at the Poplar Grove School on Saturday, September 12th from 10:00-12:00. Below is a link to the Poetry Detectives Facebook. Please join our Facebook page. Since we are a club using the space at the Poplar Grove School we will be collecting dues. They are $5 a month or $55 for the year. This will help with copying costs and a lending library I hope to assemble. Everyone will also be provided with a folder for handouts and the poems that we discuss. I plan on adding a PayPal feature for your convenience very soon.
Thanks again to everyone who attended last Saturday. It's just what I dared to hope it would be. I'll look forward to de-mystifying poetry again with you in September.
Also, stayed tuned for more updates on our Facebook page from the desk of Hubert Hound our poetry bloodhound and all-around snoop.
Rebekah, for the Poplar Grove Muse and Poetry Detectives

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Laura Ingalls Wilder in the New Yorker

I came across this fascinating article in the August issue of the New Yorker. It is about the famous childrens author Laura Ingalls Wilder who I am willing to bet many of us read and loved when we were young. The article suggests that much of Laura's success was due to her only child, daughter Rose, who was something of a literati in her day.

I always wondered why I loved those books. They were very simple and sweet and I read them all, several times. What were the lessons they were teaching us? Do young girls still read them as I did? What is popular now? Vampires? Wizards? Are there books out there about girls that show girls how to be confident, independent and resourceful as Laura Ingalls showed me?

We'd like to hear about them.

Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, August 10, 2009

Love This Place

I spent this morning awash in the sunsplash and dazzling color of our local Community Farmer’s Market. This truly remarkable Saturday morning destination in downtown Bloomington reminds me why I love this place. How can you resist the cornucopia of good foods grown right here: chilies, tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes and herbs, the sweet corn of high Indiana summer? Fresh baked bread and honey? Neighbor’s hands wave, their smiles and wares feed and decorate us and our families? This sensory nurturance, the connections made whenever I step into our weekly festival of home-grown goodness almost always makes me feel right with the world for a few fine hours, so proud and pleased to be a member of this community.

Truth is, I’m more of a distance devotee of market than a weekly participant. I make it over a few times a season but generally –willingly-- send my husband in search of goods and into the spectacular flow of foot-tapping, guitar-picking, bagpipe droning , popcorn scented, humanity. I’m not a grump or completely socially phobic or any such thing, but I do get over- stimulated awful quickly. So when I seek out a meaningful exchange or two and find my energies drifting diffusely in the direction of the tap and twang and away from the smiling face in front of me, I know it’s time to move on. And usually, I’m left with a strange feeling of incompletion when that happens. But PLEASE…that’s me: introverted at my core.

Today I answered Carole Clark’s call for women to…well, woman our booth at A Fair of the Arts where we offered WWF(a)C Greeting Cards for sale in support of scholarships and outreach at Women Writing for (a) Change. There’s something different about sitting still just off the market midway and simply enjoying the passing throngs. There were many questions and visitors and familiar faces from times gone by. Smells and sounds and light-filled the air. But we were sitting still. It was fun . I think we got more word out about this mysterious group that has been flying under the radar for the past several years.

As Women Writing for (a) Change, Bloomington approaches its 5th anniversary, I stand back in awe to celebrate yet another emerging community within our already-amazing community. We found a home, and offer one more gift to the abundance of gifts our town has to offer. If you come to the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse, you’ll find color, and sun that filters through old windows, and quiet rooms for reflection and writing. You’ll hear laughter, and poetry and stories galore and pins drop as women read to one another. You might hear girls singing and drumming and standing up behind their newly written words. You’ll smell orange ginger tea and sometimes chocolate scones. You will be attended to without interruption, and you will attend to your voice and your spirit and your writerly needs, which in this busy, over-stimulating world is its own gift. So today I’m thinking there’s a place for all of it: the heartbeat of a town can be loud and soft. Active and quiet. Bright and muted. Bloomington, Indiana… love this place.

Beth, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Friday, August 7, 2009

Welcome to Poplar Grove!

I remember my excitement as the blogosphere virtually materialized from the ether. As one with more than her share of opinions, always more than willing to share them with friends and acquaintances, I assumed I would be an early and prolific blogger. In fact, I have found myself strangely unwilling or unable to participate in the proliferation of blogs, although I enthusiastically read a few (including that of my nine-year-old daughter). My ambivalence, hard to pinpoint, seems to be located somewhere between acknowledging myself as opinionated and wanting to declare my opinions publicly, for commentary and contradiction; I’m clearly not eager or ready to defend them publicly.

I am, however, eager to participate in this electronic, “bloggheriac” celebration of WWF(a)C-Bloomington. WWF(a)C-Bloomington came into being just as I moved to town, in the fall of 2004. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of it for another 18 long months, during which the dislocation of yet another spousal-support move, a desolating national election, and an ongoing job search took their toll. Would that I had found WWF(a)C earlier, as it has transformed my life in substantive ways since my discovery of the community, and could have done so sooner.
In the (five-year) interim, I have been, however, totally captivated with the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse near my new home. It seemed so centered, so solid, so real and humbly its brick self, on a fast country road in the midst of encroaching development. Having looked at a home across the street (out of our price range), and noticed it each time I passed it (with longing for who-knew-what?), I am deeply moved to be associated with this building that has seemed so filled with promise, this third home (in my time) of this life-transforming writing community, the center of which is held so completely by Beth Lodge-Rigal.

The chosen ground of this blog rests in the aesthetics/poetics of daily life, essentially my own subject for the poetry I have reclaimed in mid-life. Having studied great (overwhelmingly male) poets for much of my life, I have come to think that the contribution I have to offer is a close examination of the life, mid-life, of a mother/wife/woman/writer/friend who is deeply engaged in the moment while also attempting to transcend it.

Cheers to this new writing venture, among many, of the growing community of Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington! I’m honored to take part.

Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Poetry Escapades

I remember when I first lost interest in poetry. I was in the eleventh grade and the teacher, Mr. Williams, beat the death out of the John Keat's poem Ode on a grecian urn. We spent an entire week tearing this poem apart and discussing every metaphor and allusion and meter and rhyme. (or so it seemed at the time.) What I learned about poetry is that it is difficult, opaque and had no relation to my life. I think he hoped the the puzzle he presented to his hopeful students would some how inspire them to read great poets. You can almost hear the gush of poetry (as it streamed into to my forming brain) slow to a trickle and stop as he shut off the spigot with his lectures. I never looked back.

Poetry crept into my life once or twice after that. I had an interesting roommate for a few years in Chicago who loved to read ee cummings aloud to his assembled friends in the evenings after dinner parties. I grew to love the cadence and rhythm of cummings' poems and the magnificent way he had of stringing words together so that the sounds evoked feelings. I bought a thick anthology by Mr. cummings and love to read and remember those days in Chicago.

Oh yes, and when my husband and I were first dating he used to quote Byron to me which was very geeky and sweet.

Suddenly, my hands-off relationship with poetry has changed. I met a huge array of interesting, thought provoking poets when I started taking classes at Women Writing for (a) Change. Every week, our class opens with a poem. Although we read and discuss mostly female contemporary poets, I don't feel like I need to get out my Cliff's notes when I want to enjoy a poem. I check poetry books out of the libary, I email friends poems that I think they will like, I write poetry, and most of all my eyes don't glaze over when someone announces they have a poem to read. I enjoy...even love poems and the worlds, emotions and settings they create. The revelation is that you don't necessarily have to explain every word and understand every metaphor. Sometimes it is enough just to listen to the language or come away with a sense of emotion or place or character.
One of the things we hope to do on this blog is highlight some of our favorite poets and poetry related websites. Check out my current favorite.

What is your relationship to poetry? Care to share your favorite poem?

Amy--for The Poplar Grove Muse

PS I'm excited that my good friend Rebekah and her friend Jackie are starting a monthly poetry group called The Poetry Detectives. They hope to read and discuss poetry in a down to earth style honoring poet and reader. Please join us at WWf(a)C for the Poetry Detective Sampler Class (a sample of what the monthly meetings will be like) held on Saturday, August 8, from 10-12 at 4638 E SR 45, Bloomington, Indiana.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Join us in our our blog adventure!

Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington is excited to present a community blog. We (a team of WWf(a)C writers) hope to profile the writing life and the poetics of daily living especially as it pertains to Bloomington, southern Indiana and the WWf(a)C community.

We are women who are writers, artists, poets, travelers, tea-lovers, mothers, daughters, sisters and observers of the daily rhythm of words and whimsy. We invite you to join us on this adventure with words. In the coming months we would like The Poplar Grove Muse to feature poems, writing opportunities, public readings, adventures at the Poplar Grove Schoolhouse, young women's writing, features on community programs we care about, and ultimately about women telling their stories.

We welcome guest bloggers and photos! Please comment and feel free to email us with your ideas. We would like to hear from readers and fellow bloggers.