Empowerment through Language...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Post-Massachusetts Poetry Festival - Action Items!

For the fifth year, I have attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and returned home filled with inspiration and joy. This is my favorite poetry event, year after year, and I encourage friends and colleagues to attend! I am never disappointed, always enriched.

This year, I presented a round table discussion with my dear sisters Antoinette Brim and Demetrice A. Worley titled "Story Retold: Women Retelling History." As we talked with the participants of how the literary and academic patriarchy cast heavy shadows on women writers that manifest in countless ways, we chose to create an action item list that would help us all in creating work, breaking our own silences, and generating space and opportunity for our extensive community of women writers. Thanks to those who offered suggestions: Judy, Donna, Sherry, Meg, Caroline, Gail, Susan, Christine, Alisha, and Lois. Here is the list and feel free to help yourself or another move forward and be fully present in our work:
  • Subscribe to listserves and social media pages/sites that support women writers, where you can find readings, workshops, and calls for publication/submission, announce achievements, and generally network with the vast community of women who write. Two of the countless examples are the Binders Facebook group (this is a closed group and you must query to be included) and the daily CRWROPPS listserve curated by Allison Joseph (although this is for all writers, it is a priceless resource and a labor of love for the national writing community).
  • Host home salons, master classes, readings: much like the house concerts of the folk music community that have been integral in many careers, most of us have a community of writers who would benefit from a poet who may have a new book out, may be touring, etc. The format can be very simple or can be a full retreat day but charging a fee to offer to the guest and selling books may not only share that writer's work but help her pay a bill. I will write on this more soon.
  • Add women writers into our teaching practice. Many writers are also teachers. Rely on the work of poets you admire as examples of great poetry.
  • Be sure to be inclusive in the circles we create for ourselves; gather like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds in circles to create and be artists together.
  • Make time to write as a personal priority or commitment. We readily give our time away and our writing may be the last priority.
  • Additionally, if you teach, particularly at the college level, work active writing time into the class schedule and write with them.
  • In active writing exercises, encourage students to take turns in supplying the prompt for the day, which frees the teacher to write spontaneously as well, possibly discovering new viable work that would not otherwise be written.
  • When teaching, be conscious of how we respond to women students and encourage their voices and for them to recognize themselves. Do not defer to male students;  make it an open classroom in which women may often speak first.
  • Be vocal in our gratitude for those who support and instruct us and be supportive of each other in any way we can.
  • Make safe, productive space for regular, consistent gatherings, such as monthly workshops or generative meetings to create and critique new work. These spaces can be in homes or public places.
  • Plan opportunities to generate new work with colleagues and friends to refocus, motivate, encourage and empower each other.
  • Focus on the work and do not make food the focus. Allow people to bring snacks if they like but it is not necessary to provide food if you host a gathering. The power of not sharing food can enhance the focus as participants share without diversion to the menu and conversation that takes away from the work.
  • Search for outlets for work that addresses current issues, such as Rattle's weekly Poets Respond.
  • Consider local public libraries as spaces to not only gather for workshopping but for readings and other poetry events.
  • Study with colleagues and sister writers, sharing insights and the results that manifest as new work.
  • Encourage local radio stations to feature poetry. Use opportunities such as National Poetry Month as a likely reason why it will be of value to the listeners.
  • Track your progress. One suggestion was simple: for every 15+ minutes that you sit to write, put a sticker on the calendar to tag the effort. It worked when we were kids and it works now as affirmation and encouragement.
  • Know yourself and your own motivations and cycles. Be aware of your patterns, habits, and ways that you do or do not prioritize yourself and your need to create. Also, be gentle with yourself but know when it is time to push.
  • Dismiss the notion of writer's block. The myth is that we are not writers if we are not actively creating new work, which then gives us plenty of opportunity to judge and denigrate ourselves. Our identity as writer/poet is much  more than the action of writing. When we are in a quiet time, we are still processing and relating to the world in metaphoric, imagistic ways. We are reading, we are meeting deadlines, caring for family and friends, working, vacationing, we are living life. We will come out of the quiet time to produce and we must trust it.
  • Own your identity as a poet/writer. There is power in claiming the title first before all other titles and responsibilities. Give yourself the gift.
  • Trust yourself and that there is value in your work, no matter what level of "achievement" you may have at the current moment.
On behalf of my dear sisters and colleagues, Demetrice and Antoinette, thank you to all those who chose to attend our session. In our vibrant conversation, which was limited by the hour time frame, we chose to focus on positive actions we can take rather than a session to rant of the injustices and slights that we all encounter. We know the stories that history has provided all too well, and we know the obstacles of being a woman in the literary world, the realm of academia and public education, and of society in general. Proceed and be bold. And remember: the matriarchy is on the rise and we are taking our planet back...