KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Writing as a Communal Art

 

I have just finished writing a poem a day during April. Having set that goal and (mostly) met it, it was a relief for the first few days not to have to come up with “something like a poem” in the midst of other obligations and demands.  At the same time, I felt bereft. The lull after the intensity of writing and sharing poems daily felt a bit like grief.

“Writing and sharing” – Yes. I gathered my poet friends via email, and we made the commitment to share a new poem daily no matter what else was going on in our lives. Part of what I miss this week is that conversation in poems, about poems, in support of our mutual (and solitary) work as poets. The surprises in the poems we shared. The way we allowed ourselves to write badly. The daily immersion in craft on some level. The encouragement of working daily. And, maybe most of all, the audience we were for each other. It’s this sense of being heard by astute but generous readers that I miss.

This was the fourth year that I have taken the month of April as a challenge to write a poem daily. This year my friends, poets George Ella Lyon (past Kentucky Poet Laureate), Sherry Chandler, Sue Churchill, and Martha Gehringer were my companions. (George Ella and Martha and I have written together in April for the past couple of years.) The level of writing was amazing some days—and bordered on silly on others (Okay, so we did cross that border!). We wrote for fun, just to see what might happen.  We could write three lines or three pages, revise or not, send something we’d started last year and wanted to rework. We could write something on our phone in a waiting room or spend a whole day wrestling with lines. The only rule was to write “something like a poem” – and even that rule was loosely applied.

As we wrote, I printed out each of our poems and put them into a loose-leaf binder. Another habit I’ve acquired.  I have four binders now, with poems from four Aprils. The binders capture the raw poems as they emerged – in the body of emails, as screen shots, or in documents we shared. Many of the poems where written “on the fly” – the fruit of productive minutes snatched from a day’s flow. A reminder of the power of setting an intention and of the collaborative nature of art. No, we did not collaborate in writing individual poems, but the poems we wrote and shared not only kept us accountable to each other but also sparked new work. What is writing but a kind of “call and response” between our words and all the literature that has ever inspired us?

When I meet with these poet-friends in person next week, we will read back through our “collected poems” of April, 2017. We intend to point out poems we particularly admired and talk about what works in these poems. I know we will laugh and moan about the “bad poems” we each produced and enjoy the freedom of letting them go. But we will each have a few poems we know we want to keep and revise—poems we see more clearly because of our friends’ responses to them.

If you haven’t tried this kind of shared writing challenge or if you didn’t get to write daily in April, start today – or write in June or whenever you choose to begin. Email some of your favorite writing buddies and see who will join you.  Not only is it more fun with friends, writing together deepens and enriches our work.

If you don’t have a local writing community, you might want to check out opportunities at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning here in Lexington. I have found the classes and groups at the Carnegie Center to be supportive and welcoming. Lifelong writing groups often begin with friendships formed in a class or workshop.

And, of course, the web offers many virtual groups.  The links below may be helpful.

 

National Poetry Writing Month      http://www.napowrimo.net

Websites for writers                          https://thewritelife.com/100-best-websites-for-writers-2017/

Mo’ne Davis will share her story: “I hope it encourages people to take a chance and play the sports they want to play and not just the ones people expect them to play”

Mo'ne Davis (photo: Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Mo’ne Davis (photo: Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Few pieces of news could make my Monday like the announcement that come March, we can expect a memoir from teenage athlete Mo’ne Davis, she of Sports Illustrated cover last summer (and the accompanying article by Albert Chen), and the “I Throw Like a Girl” Spike Lee video for Chevrolet.  And to hear that for this writing project she is said to be teaming up with author Hilary Beard, whose previous collaborations include “Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life,” is even better news, as it suggests that in her newfound fame and media scrutiny, she is good hands, and will be supported and mentored by wise elders.

http://static.squarespace.com/static/52687ed6e4b0b1f7d808ece3/t/52715587e4b023f89fe8977b/1383159175582/_CLC0156.jpg

Author Hilary Beard

To observe that Mo’ne Davis seems wise beyond her years is a cliche, yet one I return to when I read in the HarperCollins announcement of the memoir when Mo’ne says: “I’m just a girl that likes to play sports and I’m excited to share my story with everyone” … “I hope it encourages people to take a chance and play the sports they want to play and not just the ones people expect them to play.”

For weeks before today’s announcement, I’ve been trying to summarize what the example of this dignified, grounded young woman does for my spirit: how it lifts and inspires me beyond all rational explanation. Perhaps it’s partly that she exemplifies the gains made by female athletes since Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was passed over 40 years ago, which are astounding and worth recalling for ourselves. Now that the world that is possible for women and girls feels completely different from the one I grew up in, the gains we have made are worth remembering. 

For example, I’ve also been watching the PBS series Makers that documents, in oral histories, the women who have pioneered in so many professional fields. Watching these stories with my teenaged son serves as a salutary corrective to the impulse to take for granted the gains earned by these women. When my son heard Sallie Krawcheck reveal that photocopies of male penises were landing in her desk every morning, his shocked look reminds me: yes, we have traveled far. But we NEED to tell these stories, so that the gains are never minimized. (Educators: you can use the free discussion guides and lesson plans for this series at the website found at http://www.pbs.org/makers/discussion-guides/. )

Historian Gerda Lerner

Historian Gerda Lerner

Years ago I read something called “Lerner’s Law” referring to the pioneering work of historian Gerda Lerner. The “law” went something like: in the case of women who are pioneering in a field where women were not welcome, the fact that they know of one other single woman who achieved a similar feat made it exponentially more likely that they would be able to accomplish their goal. As I undertook research for this post, I could not find that comment: if you are reading this and are able to supply an attribution, I would be most grateful if you could let me know in a comment below. The nearest quotation I could find came from her book The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From Middle Ages to 1870 (pub. 1993):

[T]he fact that women were denied knowledge of the existence of Women’s History decisively and negatively affected their intellectual development as a group. Women who did not know that others like them had made intellectual contributions to knowledge and to creative thought were overwhelmed by the sense of their own inferiority or, conversely, the sense of the dangers of their daring to be different….Every thinking woman had to argue with the ‘great man’ in her head, instead of being strengthened and encouraged by her foremothers. 

photos: AP images

Pioneering marthon runner Katherine Switzer does battle as the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. Photos: AP images

So whether or not Mo’ne fully appreciates the historical precedents that brought her where she is today (and what teen can grasp on whose shoulders she stands?), I find myself calling to mind the intersections of  essential gains won by pioneers who’ve received some recognition as such: what was won for all of us by Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. She registered for the race using her initials, so that until she showed up to run, no one expected a woman (above is a series of photos documenting Katherine’s participation being discovered by Jock Semple, race official, his moving in to intercept her, then his being bounced himself by her boyfriend, Jack Miller). The recent #Likeagirl campaign reminds me that there are some strong voices reclaiming athletic abilities for women. They are welcome!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Standing-On-My-Sisters-Shoulders/55438180809

The heroines of the Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders documentary

But there are other pioneers I see even less recognized. For Mo’ne Davis inherits a legacy from Civil Rights foremothers in a way different than I do. The film “Standing On My Sisters’ Shoulders” reminds me of stories we are far too quick to forget, if we ever knew them at all. The film exists because

most of us have never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Unita Blackwell, Mae Bertha Carter, or Victoria Gray Adams. But without the efforts of these women, the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi would not have been possible. In a state where lynching of black males was the highest in the nation, a unique opportunity for women emerged to become activists in the movement. This is their story of commitment, bravery and leadership in the face of a hostile and violent segregated society. In the name of freedom and equal rights, these women bravely faced great adversity and risked their physical safety, their jobs, and even their lives.

The accompanying book, “Pieces From The Past:  Heroic Women In Civil Rights” (edited by Joan H. Sadoff; co-Edited by Dr. Robert L. Sadoff and Linda Needleman) allows the women profiled in the film to continue telling their stories in more depth.

So: on a day I celebrate Mo’ne Davis, here’s to honoring all our foremothers, their divinely strong shoulders, and the incalculable benefits we enjoy even on the days we forget them.

  

A Sanctuary for the Literary Life

Our group recently took a field trip to the newly renovated Mercer County Public Library in Harrodsburg. It features the work of regional artists, and we were particularly eager to see Mary’s latest quilt of hollyhocks displayed prominently behind the main desk.

Mercer Co Library 001

To our delight we found the library both inviting and inspiring. It’s a sanctuary for exploring and enjoying the written word, in a setting steeped in local history, culture, and art. The work of local painters and artisans is on display, and the glass wall of the local history room is etched with an 18th century map of Mercer County. In the children’s area, little ones can climb on a limb or sit inside the trunk of a spreading Osage Orange tree, modeled on a long-beloved specimen in nearby Old Fort Harrod.

Mercer Co Library 020

In the entrance to the library is a beautiful and dramatic iron sculptural screen, fifteen feet tall, made by Erika Strecker and Tony Higdon. Antique farming tools make up the elements of the screen, many of which were donated for the project by local farm families.

Mercer Co Library 004

This work of art is a celebration of Mercer County, the rural landscape and culture, the labor and ingenuity of farmers. To walk into the library is to experience an affirmation of the place where it is located, as well as the value of literacy.

Mercer Co Library 014

This unique library, reflective of the people it serves, reminded me of the individuality of the connections between writers and readers. As writers, it is a privilege when people take up our work and read, allowing it to become some small part of their own story. Likewise, as readers, it is a gift to have access to a world of books that engage, challenge, and entertain us.

A setting like this one speaks of the value of books and the nourishment to be found in a literary life. Good books are hard-wrought, but they make possible the intimate communion between reader and writer—one that changes the world, one person at a time.

I’m grateful for libraries, and for the readers, writers, and librarians who make them great.

 

Contrary Needs

As a writer, I have two strong and contrary needs, one for solitude and one for community. I once spent a month at a retreat where there were specific rules about community and solitude. Writers and artists breakfasted together and shared the evening meal, but between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm there was to be no conversation. These rules demonstrated the perfect understanding of the contrary needs of the actively creative person.

I don’t live in such a place now.

In solitude, the need I’d say I prefer to gratify more, I write with delight and anguish in private. It’s delicious to be alone with the imagination in a protected space where anything is possible. But, if the post man always finds me in my pajamas, or my children do after they’ve been at school all day, then I have some ‘splainin’ to do. Is this normal? Am I normal?

A community of writers validates this private self. It  offers the opportunity to talk with people who know the vocabulary, practice the struggle, and read books in a similar way. They understand a publication in a small magazine with a readership of less than a thousand is a coup, an occasion for a hand spring when it arrives at the door, much to the befuddlement of the post man.

It is fun to socialize and to feel a part of a community of like minded souls. Hearing a good reading, discussing a problem of construction, or a brand new excellent book or a bad one, links to the happiness inside: I am a member of a tribe. I belong here.

Sometimes this sense of belonging is too seductive, drawing the writer into on-line discussions or too many post-workshop get-togethers and the private life of writing suffers.

When I have over-indulged in community, I long for solitude and return to my desk, dreading meetings, feeling akin to Charles Dickens, who once said, that knowledge of an impending appointment can ruin an entire writing day. I feel that way, too, if my writing must be curbed for a meeting, even if I likely can’t sit for five hours in my chair until the appointed time. It’s the idea of interruption that adds anxiety to the act of writing in solitude.
Yet, in this 21st century in America, I appreciate the opportunity for both privacy and community. It seems a fortune to be able to reconcile the contrary needs. Thank you, fellow writers, for claiming this strange compulsion for self-expression and for insisting its needs be met.

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