the laughter of women

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. –  Jim Valvano

The Laughter of Women
Lisel Mueller

The laughter of women sets fire
to the Halls of Injustice
and the false evidence burns
to a beautiful white lightness

It rattles the Chambers of Congress
and forces the windows wide open
so the fatuous speeches can fly out

The laughter of women wipes the mist
from the spectacles of the old;
it infects them with a happy flu
and they laugh as if they were young again

Prisoners held in underground cells
imagine that they see daylight
when they remember the laughter of women

It runs across water that divides,
and reconciles two unfriendly shores
like flares that signal the news to each other

What a language it is, the laughter of women,
high-flying and subversive.
Long before law and scripture
we heard the laughter, we understood freedom.

As March came to a close and national poetry month approached, we spent our last group under the theme of sisterhood. What is it that binds people together? What is it that we remember over meals or in classrooms? When I come home and tell stories, it is most often that I’m trying to retell a joke and can’t get through the story without laughing. Because that is what binds us: laughter.  A joke is often built on what surprises us – a twist of words, a turn of phrase, a clever answer to a question we didn’t know how to ask. A joke opens and we lift our foot, poised in a space of uncertainty. The punchline is the firm ground we come down on together.

This week we focused, first, on the poem above to remind ourselves of the power of laughter and groups bonding together. Then we played improv games to exercise this common strength, bind our group, create safe space, and just laugh it out. Almost everyone participated in improv games. We used common rules of group improv including “yes, and” – the concept that anything that one player suggests is supported by the group so that the group can continue to create comedy together. This is not dissimilar to the agreements within our writing group. As we write and share, our words are received with a continual “yes, and” encouraging one another to explore the uncharted territories in our thinking and feeling Continue reading

Laughter is Unity

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.– Kurt Vonnegut

Last week our theme was laughter and the unified response surprised me. It is fair that asking anyone to write a funny story is putting her on the spot. We didn’t have a great deal of them and we’ve all told a hundred funny stories in group so our writing circle is not absent of laughter with or without a prompt.

The women mostly focused on the nature of laughter – what it means to laugh inside, the quality of laughter, the release and freedom of laughter, and its power to unify. Many described the shelter of laughter particularly in relationship with one another. One woman said, “I have not laughed as I have amongst these women.” Another said, “Laughter has always been my escape.”

In writing, we support sadness. We support weeping. We support the great unheard wails that would rattle the bars if they were let loose. And finally, we support laughter. One of the women said, “As a recovering addict, a lot of my life has been serious.” What recovery is possible in the shared space we make through laughter? How can we attend to the whole human in one another by the laughing together that is so needed?

Below, you’ll find the found poem created with this in mind:


How I get by unfriendly shores:
I laugh until I cry, laugh in happiness,
laughter that hurts, that becomes silent
because you cannot take one more breath.

My humor is sarcastic, that laugh
from the bottom of your stomach
the one you cannot explain, can’t control.
At times I even wonder how I do it.

I would like to see it flooding
between the divide, a surge of survival
behavior arising, awkward and fresh,
a simple action between two human lives.

I can relax. I can laugh at myself,
peel into hyena laughs, burn out of my life.
Laughter is a universal language.
Laughter is contagious.

Laughter is unity.
Laughter is the courage within.
Laugh until I cry, cry until I laugh,
the best things happen when you’re not trying,

confident that there is still good in this world.
This is the truth we’re talking about:
deep, loud laughter. The story itself smiles,
Knock, knock.


wise words and foolish feats

English: For use in a humor warning message

English: For use in a humor warning message (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our inside writing circle last week, we broke from a series of heavy sessions in favor of something lighter – thanks to April Fool’s day! Our opening poem described a prank played between sisters (see Prompt of the Week) and this truly set the stage for hilarity. Given the opportunity to write about practical jokes played on or by them, the women turned right to their writing. Others opted to distinguish between practical jokes and bullying. What they all shared during the 20 minutes of dedicated writing time was focus and the desire to tell a good story. There were a good dozen around the table, each unique. I have taken a few samples here to share a flavor of the variety of offerings.


So it’s April. What a perfect time to have your children do the nighttime dishes, right? So you clear the table and scrape the plates, making sure you have the video camera ready. OK. Now, call the kids. Flip the coin – who is washing and who is drying? Heads – it is my son who gets stuck doing the washing. So he turns around and as always – how many times do we need to explain to him you wash and rinse in lukewarm water? Nope! Does not sink into his head.

So he reaches up and turns on the ice cold water and BLAST! Boy, did he get it. Cold water everywhere. But my daughter didn’t find it so funny when she thought she had won the easy part of the deal when she found out she got the part of the deal drying up the mess. The awesome part of it was, we had taped the sprayer down; so when you turned the water on, it sprayed them. It was really funny. He thought he could try to get us back later that night with the same joke. Continue reading

remember the laughter

[The following ‘found poem’ is constructed from ‘read-back’ lines from last week’s writers on the theme of ‘laughter.’ Sometimes the resulting poem reflects the mood and theme of the week; sometimes it turns things on their head. The only ‘rule’ is that lines remain unchanged except for an occasional tweaking of verb tense. The resulting poem is a kind of community creation, each woman’s words woven into a new whole.]

Ice islands
buried deep in the walls
holding these women from the sun
stagnates laughter that should thrive;

in the sick twisted dark
beauty and truth collide
cast away like skipped stones.
Angry screams in cement walls

open up a pathway
to daylight where laughter lives,
spills from our lungs
springs from our eyes;

a free place in our soul
giggles and squeals
tossed into the waves,
a world of enthusiasm and opportunity. Continue reading

my heart’s deepest craving

If only we could all listen to these women inside Vermont’s prison, we’d discover, and quickly, that we are not so very different in what we want for our selves, our loved ones, our lives. The writer below addresses her yearning in simple and eloquent words:

to want to feel more than the immediate
to close my eyes and dream of more than sweet release
to hear and be heard
to touch the world with my words
to infect lives with laughter
to heal with naked truth
stripped down to a new beginning
one where the intro is worth reading
and the middle has real substance
where the end simply makes me crave
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