Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 19th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

Our text was “Last Writes” by Sandra Becker, posted below.

After two participants read the poem aloud individually, we read it a third time silently as a group. Participants noted how the poem’s metaphorical language, wry tone and confident humor help make a serious subject not only bearable but darkly funny and surprising as an inroad to consider revising one’s narrative: “The poet refers to the darkness but excuses it if it’s well written.” One participant associated the poem’s word play and profanity with a comedy club or spoken word performance; someone else saw/heard it as a meditation, a “railing on limitations of free will.” The group made a meta-level connection between the philosophy of not being a perfectionist with living/writing/singing off-key.

The conversation continued, exploring the work the poem does: bringing light to a dark subject, providing an opportunity to look at “hard stuff” and effect personal change, linking subjectivity with sensitivity. Aligned with the narrative medicine principle of representation, the group paused to explore the end of the poem (“hope via indecision,” “an intellectual exploration with no resolution”), a place where the narrator gives up the idea of perfectionism, and “takes the pressure off in a beautiful way.”

Our reflective writing was to the prompt: “Write about something off-key.”

We had five individuals who shared their reflective writings. There was a broad range of interpretation starting with a take on the dark humor of the text with an imaginative narrative about the organs of a body having a discussion. The next share set an immediate tone of expectation exploring the child’s ideal with a narrative revealing the differences between adult and child perspectives. Another reflection went right to the subject of suicide directly addressing, through poetic description, patient differences both in being and circumstance. This was followed by a reflection about meeting a man diagnosed with schizophrenia. Our participants’ comments observed that through the eyes of this patient we see something new and that if we look closer we may see something we hadn’t seen before. The final shared writing was about a runner struggling to complete a marathon. A man appears off to the side some distance away – he calls to her by name saying “you can make it, you can make it.” No one else had seen this young man cheering the racers on. The last line “I believe in the unexpected” was commented on as a magical ending, which caused a bit of goosebumps; a wholly different take on something off key.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, August 24th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

Last Writes by Sandra Becker

Swallow bleach — too painful,
go up in flames — lifelong fear.
Ah, a gun with a two-hour safety lesson
(I must get it right this time).
I’m pro-gun for euthanasia.
This really isn’t meant to be morbid.
When discussing poems, films, and books,
I’ve always told people I don’t care how dark
the subject as long as it’s well-written.
I’ve not chosen a day or time yet, so this may be my   last poem.
I’m giving it a shot (unintended pun).
I’m aiming (shit!) for truth, yes,
but, more importantly, it’s a poem, for God’s sake, so
veracity to poetic elements is most important.
So far, strong opening with a good hook, an unexpected turn.
Puns ease tension if used sparingly.
Revision essential to get it right.
Tense — present, of course.
Pacing — that of a waterfall bound to its given course.
Stanza breaks — none. One life, all connected, eternal.
Music — well, it’s life, silly — imperfect, can’t have everything.
Unfathomable, unpredictable, impermanent life.
Is that how God wrote it, and, Lord knows,
I’ve always been quite the perfectionist.
Why not loosen up, break some rules, have a little fun?
Sing off-key, but sing.

Last Writes by Sandra Becker.
The Sun, Last Writes, C. Bursk Copyright © 2020

11 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 19th 2020

  1. Write about something off key
    Off color, off key, what comes to mind besides karaoke voices?
    The poem we read today was about suicidal thoughts. That’s my daily work, as a psychiatrist in training, wading through suicidal thoughts, some thick and full like a stew, and some thin as watered down coffee. Some fully formed, with a past, a narrative, a character of their own. Like a being that emerges from the dust under the radiator, from between the thick stack of uncollected mail between the door and the screen. Yet others are wispy and light, like cotton candy. Sweet, you say? Sweet and pink, a comforting companion from the past.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. antoinette56

    I lived for my after school flute lessons. I was in love with my teacher; embouchure and rightness of fingering were secondary. My home life was unhappy and I took every chance I could to be with my flute teacher, babysitting her child, running errands, even family dinners including her husband. I took umbrage at my mother’s umbrage – her contention that my teacher’s refusal to come to dinner meant her marriage wasn’t doing well. Until the day I learned my flute teacher was leaving her husband. Her four-year-old is the one who told me, dinner dishes put away, playing a game of stuffed animals on the floor. I felt paralyzed – how to answer a four-year-old’s plea to normalize, to have the stuffed dog decide it won’t leave the ragged elephant after all. And I blew my next lesson, not wanting to show I knew the discordant secret.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s amazing how much emotion and plot you convey in such a short paragraph! You should submit this to “tiny love stories” on NYT. Also love the pun of “blew” my next lesson.


  3. Patricia D.


    I can’t sing, I said.
    It doesn’t matter, he replied.
    Listen with your body,
    sing from your heart,
    feel the “good vibrations,”
    melt into the group,
    open to the connections,
    Indeed, I did sing,
    sometimes “off-key.”
    Not a problem given
    the joy among strangers
    daring to sing together
    invited me to join in.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Something off-key or maybe not~~~

    It was a hot, humid morning in September.
    Not a good day for an older runner like me to be taking on a 5K race.
    But I did.
    As I listened to my music pumped into my ears,
    I tried to forget how darn hot it was
    and to just keep my body moving forward.
    One step after another, keep pushing.
    Trying to keep up with the other runners.
    I moved into the final curve of the course,
    a bit of an uphill climb.
    My thought at that moment was to simply give up,
    to quit as the sweat rolled off my forehead into my burning eyes.
    Who would care if I took a detour off course?

    Off to the left on a patch of raised ground,
    there stood a young man I didn’t recognize.
    He had no race papers in his hand,
    nor was he wearing an official uniform.
    As I ran past him,
    he called out to me by my first name and said,
    “You can do this, you can finish, keep going!”
    And with those words of encouragement,
    I did finish that race on that hot, humid September morning.
    The funny thing is no one else remembers seeing that young man that day,
    nor hearing him shout out to me those encouraging words.

    I believe in the unexpected and I am so grateful for it.

    PS~ this is a real experience of mine and one that I will forever treasure

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You up for sale? This epidermal edifice has begun to degenerate. The left kidney was surprised and confused on hearing that question. But soon gaining poise, she replied, “No. I don’t think so. I am perforated. I suffered a lot of injuries during the surgery. I guess my twin sister, right kidney, might be on the game. By the way, who are you? We have never heard from you before. We have never visited our distant neighbours, the heart and the brain, but at least we hear from them from them now and then.”

    “Oh, don’t bother. I don’t think I am that important. By the way my name is , Pancreas.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. al3793

    No stanza breaks makes a poem hard to follow for the unpracticed especially
    when enjambed it can catch you
    off guard and if the music is off key
    you can get lost or at least distracted
    like when someone runs their fingers across
    the blackboard the sound camouflages words like
    “drink lye” and
    “self-immolation” but
    “for euthanasia I prefer the gun”
    those words can’t be masked
    And yet, permission to sing off-key and
    directions like, “but sing”
    reminds me that it’s all one life
    and all connected.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Point to Point Inscriptions

    Straight lines they bother me they always have
    a ruler in school was problematic
    math lessons they always started well
    until it was time to draw a line
    carbon paper check
    metal ruler check
    sharpened pencil check

    Everything seemed aligned and controlled
    perfect time to draw a perfect straight line
    rest assured the spirit in the ruler was no more
    maybe it had found a home in Peter’ s ruler.

    half an inch in I feel a familiar force hover over my hand – gripped
    frozen as the heat intensified
    stop stop stop
    I can’t hold the ruler in place anymore
    one two three four five
    inches away from perfection
    drawn dragged tugged towed and yanked away
    was it my hands?
    was it in my mind?
    was it the spirit of the compass?
    had we declared a non-cooperation agreement with the spirit in the ruler?

    teacher round
    we exchange a knowing look
    nothing said
    I hope she didn’t notice my wonky non-straight line
    we both know she did
    what does this mean?
    what was she thinking?
    what does she think I was thinking?
    more to the point did she know about the spirit in the ruler?
    I did not understand any of this.

    somehow I knew that we both knew that from point to point
    for a line to be convincing it had to remain
    an illusion of stability order and control
    even at five I was conscious that I didn’t want to walk the taut tense line in life
    I wanted room space air and flow
    I dreamt of a space for margins of error
    a space to learn
    to explore
    to grow
    to be

    So naturally I found myself drawn to the circle
    give me a circle any day
    I just had a knack for drawing circles
    compass remained shiny and new
    as my magic mind moved my hand to create
    mellifluous freehand drawn circles that danced with joy
    giddy as the first dot pulsated and blossomed
    like a caterpillar transformed into a butterfly
    free to flicker from flower to flower.

    I revel in drawing circles because
    It’s a revelation that I always end where I began
    complete and perfect
    with space to roam
    and space to play
    with space to multiply
    and space to collide and connect with more circles.

    A space to become more than point to point
    A perfect purple circle.

    Liked by 1 person

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