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

homeless person’s interview

Tonight’s group of incarcerated women writers was filled with 14 participants, several of them for the first time. Despite multiple interruptions from outside, they remained focused and eager to follow an unusual sequence for the evening. After opening with the long and powerful poem, “This is the Hour” by The Hopi Nation Elders, they moved into a short ten-minute writing time; then were offered magazine images from which to select two or three. Another short writing  about what those images raised for them was followed by comparing the original and final writings to see what connections, if any, existed.

To a woman, they were intrigued by what they found. Finally, collaging these images finished the evening on a high note. One participant, AA, wrote a tender-comic interview which she later connected with a series of images that spoke to the insights she, like many of these women, often conceal inside. Her words follow:

“Where do you live?”
“Gosh. I don’t want to say.”
When you say I’m homeless, they always look with dismay.
“Where was your last place of residence?”
Now it’s getting intense.
“What’s the address of yesterday’s stay?”
“How long did you stay there?”
I look down. “Just a day.”
“Do you have any close family?”
I look up. “Hell, yes! I’ve got many.”
“What’s your means of income?”
The look she gives says she thinks I am dumb.
“I fly a sign I put out on a can.”
“Isn’t that a crime?” “Not where I sit. It’s just fine.”
“What’s some of your goals?”
“I’d like some shoes without holes.”
“What’s your future plan?”
“It’s to be just as I am.”

After making my collage, I found the following connections between my earlier writing and the collage:

Everything goes up.
They are strong and can hold themselves up.
They can bring benefits to many.
They require time.
They are something to watch.
With love and respect, they go far.
They start at the bottom, then rise.

They relate because people judge by looks and what they see; that’s how they decide whether it’s good or bad, instead of history; and what they miss may be sad.


a mother’s strength, revisited

Last night, I sat in a circle with seven women inside Vermont’s women’s prison talking about the roots of Mother’s Day. I read Julia Ward Howe’s  “Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870 (watch dramatic reading here.)

Portrait drawing of poet, anti-slavelry activi...

Drawing of poet, anti- slavelry activist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe (Wikipedia)

Most of us have no idea that Mother’s Day originated as a movement toward international peace. Reading Howe’s words today feels as immediate and relevant as if they had just been written. Sadly. And, on a more personal note, finding peace with mother – within and without –  continues for many women to be a lifelong struggle.

One of the prompts offered last light was to share a remembered scene of my mother, something learned that I want to take with me today.  Read JL’s moving story below. Continue reading

we are waiting for . . .

What we want

. . .  a letting go, a blind falling . . . permission to breathe again . . . as if our whole lives depended on . . .

These phrases from Linda Pastan’s poem, “Interlude,” opened last week’s writing circle inside Vermont’s prison for women. The ten women around the table lifted pens, wrote without stopping for 20 minutes on yellow tablets, then shared their words — some with trepidation, some boldly, some with tenderness. After their words had been held and heard, we spoke back into the circle phrases that resonated with us. These ‘read-back’ lines became the material for the following ‘found’ poem, whose title is one of the lines:


 moral fibers now frayed
force my shoulders to drop
teetering between my two selves
self-righteous self-loathing
twisted into shards
struggling to breathe
in the armor I construct for myself. Continue reading