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

almost there . . .


work in progress -Working hard – literally, all day, every day – to complete the manuscript for Orbis Books about our work writing with Vermont’s incarcerated women. Finding myself wanting to quote the incredible wisdom in the words of these women – wisdom from the street, the broken heart, destroyed childhood; from spirit, faith and hope . . . Knowing I need to wait so the book will be whole and impactful in its own right. Believing this is good work and honored to witness the steps, from first tentative crawl to sprawling leap. Eager to see which of the wise and wonderful women we’ve invited to ‘blurb’ the book will. Grateful to have found work that feeds even as I am fed.