Live Virtual Group Session: 12PM EDT September 24th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read “Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation” by Alice Neel, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about being judged or having to explain yourself.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 September 27th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation, Alice Neel, 1933

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 22nd 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read “The Sign in My Father’s Hands” by Martín Espada, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about learning something no one told you.”

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 Friday September 24th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


   
"The Sign in My Father’s Hands" by Martín Espada

         —for Frank Espada

The beer company
did not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans,
so my father joined the picket line
at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion, New York World’s Fair,   
amid the crowds glaring with canine hostility.   
But the cops brandished nightsticks
and handcuffs to protect the beer,
and my father disappeared.

In 1964, I had never tasted beer,
and no one told me about the picket signs   
torn in two by the cops of brewery.
I knew what dead was: dead was a cat   
overrun with parasites and dumped   
in the hallway incinerator.
I knew my father was dead.
I went mute and filmy-eyed, the slow boy   
who did not hear the question in school.   
I sat studying his framed photograph   
like a mirror, my darker face.

Days later, he appeared in the doorway   
grinning with his gilded tooth.
Not dead, though I would come to learn   
that sometimes Puerto Ricans die   
in jail, with bruises no one can explain   
swelling their eyes shut.
I would learn too that “boycott”
is not a boy’s haircut,
that I could sketch a picket line   
on the blank side of a leaflet.

That day my father returned
from the netherworld
easily as riding the elevator to apartment 14-F,   
and the brewery cops could only watch   
in drunken disappointment.
I searched my father’s hands
for a sign of the miracle.

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 20th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read “A Body’s Universe of Big Bangs by Leslie Contreras Schwartz, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write (or write about) a holy song.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 Wednesday September 22nd at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


"A Body’s Universe of Big Bangs" by Leslie Contreras Schwartz


A body must remind itself
to keep alive, continually,
throughout the day.

Even at night while sleeping,
proteins, either messenger, builder,
or destroyer, keeps busy

transforming itself or other substances.
Scientists call these reactions
—to change their innate structure,
dictated by DNA—cellular frustration,

a cotton-cloud nomenclature for crusade,
combat, warfare, aid, unification,
scaffold, or sustain.

Even while the body sleeps, a jaw slackened
into an open dream, inside is the drama
of the body’s own substances meeting

one another, stealing elements,
being changed elementally,
altered by a new story

called chemical reaction.
A building and demolishment,
creating or undoing,

the body can find movement,
functioning organs, resists illness—
or doesn’t. Look inside every living being

and find this narrative of resistance,
the live feed of being resisted.
The infant clasping her fist

or the 98-year-old releasing
hers. This is how it should be,
we think, a long story carried out

to a soft conclusion. In reality,
little deaths hover and nibble,
little births opening mouths
and bodies the site of stories

and the tales given to us, and retold, retold,
never altered, and the ones forgotten,
changed, unremembered

until this place is made of only
ourselves. Our own small dictators,
peacemakers, architects, artists.

A derelict cottage,
a monumental church
struck in gold, an artist’s studio

layered with paints and cut paper,
knives and large canvas—

the site the only place
containing our best holy song:

I will live. I will live. I will keep living.




Copyright © 2020 by Leslie Contreras Schwartz. 
This poem originally appeared in 
Pleiades: Literature in Context, October 2020.


Live Virtual Group Session: 12PM EDT September 15th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read The Road Ahead by Turlough O’Carolan, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about the phantoms you will be.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 September 20th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


The Road Ahead by Turlough O’Carolan

The road ahead is like the road behind.
The dreams achieved revise the dreams to come.
Mind shapes world, and new-shaped world shapes mind,
As what you are steps back from what you've done.

The deeper you resides in its own space,
Sheltered like a yolk from wind and tide,
Filled with unimaginable grace
To wander through the paradise inside.

Ambitious girl! Become what dream you will,
And sail across each dark, forbidding sea.
Within, the fawn will graze sweet meadows still,
Untouched by all the phantoms you will be

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 13th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

Twenty people from Canada and the USA zoomed together to close read a short excerpt from Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony (1977). We carefully entered the text with participants finding there way in a “mysterious” or “liminal” space wondering if the protagonist, the unnamed “he” in the text, had a visual impairment. Attending to the first sentence “For a long time he had been white smoke,” had us considering the past that brings the reader into the present of the paragraph we just read. We noted  images of green leaves (the only color in this white and gray world) pressed against a barred window and “elk mountain in the distance” with bones as boundaries. Is this surrealism or “a real place” like a sanatorium or a prison, we asked. Was the man suffering mental and emotional difficulties? Did the white smoke, which was “sucked away” indicate a loss of spirit that left the protagonist inhabiting a nether world, a purgatory or limbo?

We began to associate to other texts and images such as Pixar’s “Souls” (where images are outlines) and the poem “The Death of Fred Clifton”, the description of an internal experience:

there was all around not the 
shapes of things
but oh, at last, the things
themselves.

In this fogged-in place, the sense of smell was still available. Mention of walking down “floors that smelled of old wax and disinfectant” intensified the idea that this was life in an institutional setting, a life lived on the edges. Is the person living this life seen or unseen? Was the blurring of vision internal or external? Was there “othering” going on?

Pieces of the puzzle began to come together but, as always, we had less than an hour to discuss the text, write to a prompt, and listen to one another in this VGS session, and so a facilitator offered a bit of background information: “He” is half Native American and half white and suffers PTSD following his time as a soldier. With this, participants were confirmed in their sense that “he” felt ‘’soul-less” detached from those around him, even “dissociated.” We began to understand better the filtering of “white smoke” into this story: smoke as signals, a form of communication; smoke and peace as byproducts of a shared pipe; smoke as an essential in healing ceremonies.

The prompt, “Write about being white smoke, produced: a piece recounting a NYTimes article about drumming as a form of shared mourning and the author’s desire both to mourn and to go on remembering those who were lost;

a reflection on identity beginning, “I am old, overlooked…undervalued…invisible” followed   by a strong rebuttal and reminder of the experience, sanity, and wisdom elders offer;

and a list of the possibilities of white smoke (Eg. “to announce a new pope”), which narrows to memories of a father’s smoking Lucky Strikes, quitting (thankfully) when he learned it caused cancer, and dying many years later of the “white smoke” of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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 Wednesday September 15th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


For a long time he had been white smoke. He did not realize that until he left the hospital, because white smoke had no consciousness of itself. It faded into the white world of their bed sheets and walls; it was sucked away by the words of doctors who tried to talk to the invisible scattered smoke. He had seen outlines of gray steel tables, outlines of the food they pushed into his mouth, which was only an outline too, like all the outlines he saw. They saw his outline but they did not realize it was hollow inside. He walked down floors that smelled of old wax and disinfectant, watching the outlines of his feet; as he walked, the days and seasons disappeared into a twilight he could catch only with a sudden motion, jerking his head to one side for a glimpse of green leaves pressed against the bars of the window. He inhabited a gray winter fog on a distant elk mountain where hunters are lost indefinitely and their own bones mark the boundaries.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. (2006). First published in 1977. New York: Penguin.


Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 7th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read the poem “The Painting After Lunch” by Clarence Major, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write or draw about a time it wasn’t working.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 September 13th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“The Painting After Lunch” by Clarence Major

It wasn’t working. Didn’t look back. Needed something else. So
I went out. After lunch I saw it in a different light, like a thing
emerging from behind a fever bush, something reaching the
senses with the smell of seaweed boiling, and as visible as yellow
snowdrops on black earth. Tasted it too, on the tongue Jamaica
pepper. To the touch, a velvet flower. Dragging and scumming, I
gave myself to it stroke after stroke. It kept coming in bits and fits,
fragments and snags. I even heard it singing but in the wrong key
like a deranged bird in wild cherries, having the time of its life.

Clarence Major, "The Painting After Lunch" 
from Waiting for Sweet Betty. 
Copyright © 2002 by Clarence Major. 

Encuentros virtuales en vivo: Sábado 4 de septiembre, 13:00 EST (17:00 UTC)

El texto elegido fue “MÚSICA” por Ana María Matute

Después de las instrucciones habituales sobre cómo funciona el taller, invitamos a los participantes a enfocarse en cualquier palabra, verso, imagen, o en la misma forma del poema que les llamara la atención y les evocara pensamientos y sensaciones que quisieran compartir. La estructura ambivalente del poema tuvo un gran efecto en los participantes.

Después de este intercambio, escribimos por cinco minutos según la consigna en base al poema. La consigna fue “Escribe sobre un momento en que inesperadamente descrubriste un secreto”.

Ahora, alentamos a los participantes que si así lo desean, escriban nuevas ideas, o otros textos en el sitio web de las sesiones en español a continuación … Pero, antes de escribir, les recordamos que el blog es un espacio público donde, por supuesto, no se garantiza la confidencialidad.

Por favor, únase a nosotros en nuestra próxima sesión en español: El sábado 25 de septiembre a las 13 hrs. o a la 1 pm EST (hora de Nueva York). También, ofrecemos sesiones en inglés. Ve a  nuestra página de sesiones grupales virtuales en vivo.

¡Gracias y hasta la próxima!


"MÚSICA" por Ana María Matute

Las dos hijas del Gran Compositor -seis y siete años- 
estaban acostumbradas al silencio. En la casa no debía 
oírse ni un ruido, porque papá trabajaba. Andaban de 
puntillas, en zapatillas, y sólo a ráfagas, el silencio se 
rompía con las notas del piano de papá.
Y otra vez silencio.
Un día, la puerta del estudio quedó mal cerrada, y la 
más pequeña de las niñas se acercó sigilosamente a la 
endija; pudo ver cómo papá, a ratos, se inclinaba sobre 
un papel, y anotaba lago.
La niña más pequeña corrió entonces en busca de su 
hermana mayor. Y gritó, gritó por primera vez en tanto 
silencio:
-¡La música de papá, no te la creas...! ¡Se la inventa!
 

Live Virtual Group Session: 12PM EDT September 1st 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read the poem, “Hurricane” by Mary Oliver, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about something that didn’t behave like you imagined.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 Tuesday September 7th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.



“Hurricane” by Mary Oliver

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

Mary Oliver,  A Thousand Mornings.

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 30th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

James Baldwin’s “Untitled” (posted below) with its brevity and simplicity, its white space and four offset words captivated our group of thirteen (two new participants and a cadre of “the usual suspects” on Zoom) as we waded into this poem, which begins with an address and the request: “think about it please.” We commented on the tone and wondered: was the speaker being polite or confrontational or, perhaps, sarcastic in their asking the Lord about the rain? With all the rain and floods and tropical storms in the news there were plenty of images swirling in our minds. As we considered possible understandings of “rain” multiple people heard the poem as “a plea for mercy.” Some participants were drawn into the beauty of light falling on falling water; others felt tension, or were drawn to musical rhythms and sounds suggested by rain. We associated to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s well known house “Falling Water” and to the Allman Brothers’ recording of “Stormy Monday” with the words: “Lord have mercy.” The repetition of the word “light”—three times—brought connections to spiritual matters, including the expression “I will hold you in the light” as an intention to pray for someone. And what of the liminal space “beneath the water”? Deep, dark waters or baptism by immersion? Before moving on to our prompted writing, we agreed that the text allowed for multiple, paradoxical understandings.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about a drizzle or a downpour.

Five people read aloud their work referencing (a) patterns and problem solving in the Blues; (b) watering seeds into blossoms; (c) living in a place with an abundance of  “gully washers” (a new expression for many of us!) and the anxiety that builds when much wet weather is forecast—enough that Xanax becomes a part of the preparation for storms; (d) an umbrella-bearing narrator who “needn’t avert my eyes from a drizzle of light” seemed to want more not less; and (e) an experience of grief as a raging river, the narrator feeling powerless but nevertheless reaching into the water and feeling it move around and past.

We noticed, in our communal writing, an abundance of thought in the shadow of Baldwin’s plea to “think about it please.” Here in the narrative blog we have an opportunity to go on reflecting and responding to each other.

Thank you everyone.

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 Wednesday September 1st at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“Untitled,” by James Baldwin

  Lord,

              when you send the rain

              think about it, please,

              a little?

      Do

              not get carried away

              by the sound of falling water,

              the marvelous light

              on the falling water.

          I

              am beneath that water.

              It falls with great force

              and the light

Blinds

              me to the light.

James Baldwin, “Untitled” from Jimmy’s Blues. Copyright © 2014 by The James Baldwin Estate. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press. Found on www: Poetry Foundation


Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 26th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read the photograph “Street Scene, New York City” by Weegee (Arthur Fellig), posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Why did you stop to look?

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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 30th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“Street Scene, New York City” by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)