hold fast to these words


reconciliation, franz marc

From time to time, I like to post poems created from lines written by each woman in the circle. Between weekly groups, I weave these into a poem, creating a kind of communal composition from the thoughts, feelings and turns of phrase of the collective. They both contain and exceed the individual themes of each woman’s personal writing.

At last week’s semi-annual read-around with invited guests, we opened with this same poem. It feels especially timely for the holiday season. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments space. And Happy Holidays!


I had built my own tomb
blinded and stunted by the demons
in a syringe needle, drowning in suffering
haze and fog of an alcohol-induced perception
that made my soul bleed and hope vanish.

But my Creator has a plan for me –
set free by my God
stronger and more apt to succeed
I see the facet of your make up
reconciled in each teardrop.
The hole in my heart is healed. Continue reading

reach for more

'Winter Beauty' hybrid honeysuckle

‘Winter Beauty’ hybrid honeysuckle

As is my custom, each week I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written the previous week by women participating in the writing inside circle. This is a particularly interesting challenge for those weeks when I am not present as facilitator. Reading these lines ‘cold’ and out of context simply prompts me to find the thread that will tie them together. Perhaps the result is a narrative, or perhaps, a mood-setting vignette of condensed and coalesced memory. Either way, I am as eager as the dozen or so expectant faces turned toward the reader of those combined lines to gauge the pulse of the resulting piece. Did I capture something? Does it speak to them? Does it resonate with their original intention(s) or distort their individual voice so much they cannot even recognize their own words?

It is important to understand that, for these women, this is much more than an exercise. It is an opportunity for them to shine; for their words to mingle into a mixed message of hope, longing, despair; for them to see themselves, through their words, as part of something bigger than their own thoughts and feelings, to become part of a communal tapestry of experience. A slice of life, if you will.

So when a long-time writer with the group pronounced the following ‘found poem’ “just beautiful” as she asked to read it last Thursday, I listened with extra attention to sense how it would hit her sister writers, now prepped to receive with her assessment. What I heard was the gentle hum of mmm’s around the table as they recognized both their part and the whole they had become part of creating, a brand-new expression of love, loss and longing that started with individual’s writing on Valentine’s Day one week prior.

Hear the clock –  tick, tock –
it’s time I must go
retrace the steps of everywhere I’ve been:
the drugs, the crazy nights, the binges;
back to the 15-year-old version of myself
I was taught and shown in a strange way.
If I were able to erase all the scars,
I’d be able to open my eyes and see
we outspent the repercussions. Continue reading

summer nights

Summer Solstice Sunset

Summer Solstice Sunset (Photo credit: erik9000)

June is rich with writing prompts, what with Father’s Day, the Summer Solstice, commencements and other celebrations. Although women inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility have limited opportunities to be outdoors during this or any season, they carry strong memories and associations within. Last week we wrote pieces about how summer’s proliferation of nature resonates with us. As is our custom in the week following a circle, I create a ‘found poem’ from lines shared at the previous meeting. This creates a kind of communal poem, woven from the words of each woman. Put together in this way, phrases change and merge their meanings in new and unexpected ways as women hear their words anew.

Rain moving in
spreads through the sky.
Watch it, watch it closely;

the world awakening
in this small piece of her earth
is alive! breathe it all in!

Stripped of all my identities
her story becomes my story –
she has arisen so quickly

she travels far, she climbs high
then she walks down, down, down
to what matters most
her only wish to live and be free.

Who can see day turn to night?
vines have climbed, the birds calling
a new perspective.

How complex I am!|
my heart wants
the bared truth
born with a will to live,
to dribble sand castles of longing
into the voice that was always my own

‘for years I have longed for . . .’

This phrase was offered last week for the women writing inside Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility to start their writing during group time. Many tender pieces emerged, including this one. DB, who wrote it, was unable to read it aloud. But at the end of group, she wrote ‘I have to learn to read my work aloud, especially when it’s about my children. Maybe it will help me in the end.’ Comments like this reinforce the value to the individual of writing and having her words witnessed. Her quickly-written response to the prompt follows:

“For years I longed for . . . . someone to call me mom, look up to me for advice, guidance, send them to school. I finally got that opportunity and I fucked up worse than I ever could have. I’m sitting in jail with no one to call my own. Continue reading