the word for it

credit - galleryhip

credit – galleryhip

So THIS is the how you spell retirement – the word for what I do with my days. It is writing, yes. Writing to question, if not exactly with intent. Writing to explore, if not quite to declare. Writing to learn, and perhaps to share.

I continue to find that the writing I do in a group and with limited time forces out something that simply does not appear on its own. So with gratitude for my groups inside prison and for my groups outside in the world, I post this Sunday’s musing  – the only possible word for it.


In the grandiose silence of snow
woven around the waist of my universe
I disappear into its generous pocket

nesting where I may letter and draw
clouds of my own making, punctuate
the blankness of winter light.

This is what I do not do, but would, if . .
I could believe my words held merit
beyond the fiery walls that warm me; if

I could grab hold of something outside myself
to speak the words I know to be true
believing them to be of use to another; if 

I held conviction in my heart as strong
as my need to use words in service
to create, to challenge, to change.

The word for what I do, then, would be
courage – courage to reach deep
into my heart and pull up the truths

that hibernate yearlong in silence,
rousing them to revolt, reveal
and revel in the life given me.

The words would unravel
what is tightly wound around
waist and heart, bask in the light

that travels me through each day,
light that speaks the truth
of its own religion.


*inspired by lines from two Billy Collins’ poems,
‘Snowy Day’ and ‘Shoveling Snow with Buddha’


heart launch

Today’s Daily Post Prompt: Describe what it feels like to hear a beautiful piece of music or see a stunning piece of art.

On Thursday evening, 250 people packed Burlington, Vermont’s beautiful lake-side Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center to receive and honor the words of previously incarcerated women.

[Their writings are among the unedited prose and poetry of 60 incarcerated women writing for self-understanding and change in the newly released HEAR ME, SEE ME: Incarcerated Women Write (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY).]

Nine women gathered to read from their book to a riveted audience. The cumulative impact of their stories, their voices, their diverse appearance and their shared sense of community in this somewhat surreal and completely unprecedented reunion was beyond beautiful. Silence was complete. Focus intense. Energy shifted. Understanding prevailed.

Afterwards, the nine clustered around two tables, pens poised to personalize the pages of books just purchased by the many who moments earlier had given them a rousing standing ovation for their courage and their vulnerability. The entire event was a moving collage, a kaleidoscope of fears overcome, challenges shared, connections made in heart time. The air vibrated with compassion on the waves of relieved laughter. Each woman radiated a confidence only hinted at beneath her ‘blues’ inside prison.

It was heart stopping and heart filling. Beautiful and stunning. A true heart launch for all.

as imbolc unfolds

I love the work I do weekly writing inside Vermont’s women’s prison. The women in our circle never cease to amaze me with their knowledge and their wisdom; their willingness to dive deep; their openness to sharing the most frightened and frightening parts of themselves. In their presence, I too find myself unlayering. The fast-writes we write and share together in our hour-and-a-half circles surprise most of us, most of the time.

This past week, in acknowledgement of February 2 and its many named celebrations – Candlemas, Groundhog Day, Imbolc – we opened the circle with Miriam Dyak’s wonderful poem “Imbolc” (see writinginsideVT’s Poem of the Week.) My first surprise was that one member of our circle, an ardent Buddhist, spoke equally passionately and knowledgeably about the meaning and history of Imbolc. The second was the powerful writing that emerged from every pen around the table in response to the double prompt of Dyak’s poem and selected SoulCards(TM) by Deborah Koff-Chapin.

In honor of the season, I take this opportunity to share two of my own fast-writes during the four hours of two different groups, writing to the same poem and to several different cards. I hope you enjoy them. Perhaps you have your own February 2nd reflections to share, below. I’d love to read them!

credit Deborah Koff-Chapin

credit Deborah Koff-Chapin

I peer into the depths to see myself

slowly waken, pulse slowed by cold
as my hands hold my heart suspended

for winter’s months to pass into warmth,
bring me fully out of the womb-cave
of darkness, stilled by sleep and reflecting

back to me the lessons learned
from winter visions that long to merge
with the light springing into life.
– swb

credit Deborah Koff-Chapin

credit Deborah Koff-Chapin

Hold my hand, eyes stumbling into light
from the dark place I have sat so long.
I am blinded by your gentle presence

a glow in this wintry cave of night
its low-arching edge cupping you fetal
around me as at our first birth,

holding guiding me until the time
of release, when I shall go forth
unfurl my own wings sprung into the light.
– swb


pair dancing - koffTwo weeks back, I posted two sets of writings from the women inside Vermont’s prison where I hold weekly writing groups. We had responded to a set of five statements from Brene Brown  which circulated following her highly-popular November 12 interview with Krista Tippett. In light of recent events and the coming solstice, it felt right to share my own writing on those themes; writing I did along with the incarcerated women – inside, writing about vulnerability with metal doors clanging, corrections officers interrupting three or four times per hour for head count, women sitting together with others they might not even speak to on the unit; but here we were writing and sharing ouir raw unedited vulnerability.

The five topics are not specifically referenced here. Nonetheless, I believe the resulting lines speak not only to her words, but to many of us for whom the idea of opening ourselves can be frightening, even to point of refusing to do so.

I. When the shell is tight
across the chest, breathing
is labored, forced;

without digging in secret
places within
whence would poetry arise?

If I follow the same path
day after day, I remain
in a rut.

II.  We cannot afford to forget
any experience,
even though painful.

If I live numbed
how would I become better
than my past mistakes?

Absent feeling, there is no pulse;
my soul demands
to feel it all.

III.  How can I demand of you
that which I would not myself do? Continue reading

stance on silence

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of Burlington Business and Professional Women at which Janice Santiago was awarded Woman of Achievement for 2012. This award ‘recognizes leadership and achievements for the betterment of women in the community.’

I recently met Janice (Employee Advocate, Women Helping Battered Women) at last month’s ‘Refusing Silence’ workshop, an event I offer annually in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It was her first workshop with me but not, I learned this evening, her first. She was being honored for going above and beyond in her work; for being a genuinely caring advocate, often accompanying clients to classes or appointments.  Into the bargain, her sparkling personality and great sense of humor were duly noted.

In accepting the honor, Janice graciously referred to her workshop experience with Women Writing for (a) Change – Vermont. To illustrate both her own work and the impact of writing as a tool for self-reflection and change, she read her poem penned during our Saturday workshop, below.

Afterwards, speaker Madeleine Kunin – former Governor of Vermont, Deputy Secretary of Education, and Ambassador to Switzerland [among many other significant roles and contributions] – echoed Janice’s remarks about the need for women’s voices to speak out. Stories are how we connect to one another. Stories create compassion. A single voice can be the impetus for change. As Carolyn Heilbrun so famously wrote, “Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend. ” ― Carolyn G. Heilbrun, The Last Gift of Time. At least two strong women sowed courage this evening in Burlington VT; and I am proud to call them ‘friend.’

An Advocate’s Stance on Silence
I will not be silent for you
If you cannot speak up – stand up for yourself, I will be your voice
If you are being harmed – I will stand up and protect you and help you to a safe place
I will not be a bystander who doesn’t act or help
I will stand up, step in, and speak out
Do not be silenced, do not be afraid
All of your thoughts and feelings are valued
If you need help I will be there
Whether you need me silently standing by
Or if you need my helping in finding your voice
If you need a hug, to laugh, to cry, or just to be
I will be there
If words are not enough let my actions speak for me
As I will not be silent for you

Janice Santiago