When Words Were Poems

IMG_3604-a

Photo: (c) Lorraine Healy–an amazing Argentinian poet, writer, and photographer living and working on Whidby Island. Lorraine is the first person ever to have received a Green Card in the U.S. on the basis of being a poet.

I had the great pleasure of meeting, working, and living with Lorraine recently at Hedgebrook, a Gloria Steinem-spirited place of ‘Women Authoring Change.’ I was at Hedgebrook working on my Soul Stories collection of poetry and prose exploring the boundaries of narrative within health and healing in the context of trauma and homelessness. Surrounded by poets and the genius loci of Whidby Island (including of Double Bluff beach in the photo–where I walked almost every day), as well as being cut off from the time/mind suck of the internet, ‘poetry happened’ and this is one poem that came to me. It is, of course, a nod to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Every word was once a poem.” In the poem I probe the places ‘where narrative ends’ or ‘where narrative is not possible.’

There are human experiences beyond the reach of narrative. These are dimensions of experience that are what psychologist Donnel Stern calls ‘implicit knowing’ or the ‘unthought known’: they are there but not there; there but not available for reflective thought or verbalization. Yet these experiences of implicit knowing can be formulated, conveyed, shared and communicated through metaphor, poetry, art, photography, and gesture.

Embracing the times and places where narrative ends and poetry happens is not for the faint-of-heart. It is akin to the feeling of standing on the vanishing strip of shifting sand at the foot of a fast-eroding beach bluff.

When Words Were Poems (a choka–a form of waka/Japanese poetry)

When words were poems

our body’s understanding

was written in flesh;

a repose, a prayer whispered

in answer to awe.

Round marbled babbles sang praise,

danced the sun on waves.

Now each word is a poem,

draw knowledge softer,

suckle life from all splinters,

embrace shadows beyond words.

Women Writing Dangerously

IMG_0404 - Version 2Here’s my favorite excerpt from Washington State’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austin’s powerful poem “The Girl Who Goes Alone” (From her collection Every Dress a Decision, Blue Begonia Press, 2011):

“I walk into the wilderness alone because the animal in me needs to fill her nose
with the scent of stone and lichen,
ocean salt and pine forest warming in early sun.

I walk in the wilderness alone so I can hear myself.
So I can feel real to myself.”

You can watch Elizabeth reading the entire poem at the Hedgebrook Rising! Town Hall Seattle, April 9, 2013 here. She is an amazing poet and an awesome performer. I’ve had the opportunity to take voice coaching from her on ways to strengthen my ‘spoken word’ performance–something that doesn’t come easily to me. The most useful bit of advice she gave me and that I now use as an internal mantra before I read publicly is “It requires you, but it’s not about you.” A calling up of the muse I suppose but it often helps.

Creating a safe space in the wilderness for ‘women writing dangerously’ is what Seattle-area philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff had in mind when she opened Hedgebrook on Whidby Island near Seattle twenty-five years ago. She recruited Gloria Steinam to be on the advisory board and Steinam has written most of her memoir there. It’s an old farm on Useless Bay that has six cozy cabins which house a stream of women writers in residence. The Hedgebrook staff treat these writers to what they call radical hospitality. They provide food and lodging and protected time and supportive space in which to write. As Steinam says of Hedgebook, it is a place that nurtures women’s voices, a place that creates both personal and political change: it is important for the world to hear from women (and to be open to listening to them.) The Friends of Art Zone created a lovely 25 minute documentary on Hedgebrook that you can watch here.

I am honored to have been given a three week writer in residence stay at Hedgebrook this fall and am busy planning my dangerous writing. Hedgebrook is committed to nurturing a diverse community of women writers from across the globe. If you–or someone you know–is a woman writer in need of some radical hospitality, consider applying for a Hedgebrook Writers in Residence award (deadline: September 3rd) or come to one of their onsite master class retreats. You can also order a copy of their new cookbook Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality (SheWrites Press, 2014). Their food is reportedly amazing. And for those of you on the East Coast, there’s now a Hedgebrook spin-off in Brooklyn called Powder Keg (writers Holly Morris and Sharon Lerner, co-founders and Hedgebrook alums.)

The photo here is of a sunset at Olga Bay on Orcas Island where I try to take an annual solo writing retreat.