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.