Thursday, May 24, 2012

Poems Behind the Pulpit & Other Cincinnati Adventures

Last weekend, my older sister gave birth to her second daughter.  With my sister-in-law getting closer to her late summer due date, I've been ruminating over the role of motherhood more than usual these days. Truth be told, I'm in complete awe of biological mothers. And as I seek out friendships and my place within community as an adult and developing artist, I gratefully lean on the fact that to mother can also mean "to author, to give purpose, or to protect." 

I'm a visual learner. Maybe you are, too. I tend to (sub)consciously internalize, even replicate, the actions and emotions of those closest to me. Not surprisingly, this has both saved and seared me. When I think about learning how to shape my own story in poetry and song, I give thanks for the many people, particularly women--Mennonite and otherwise--who first opened their mouths and picked up their pens. 

Perhaps there can be such a thing as creative mothering, then: the practice of affirming and mentoring one another’s originality and truth. As part of a book-and-arts tour, I'm offering poetry writing workshops around the country for intergenerational groups of Anabaptist-affiliated women, mostly to encourage safe public places where stories can unfold and be collected as a community, and to highlight the positive role artists can play in this process. 

We so rarely take the time to tell stories without a screen of some sort these days (both literally and figuratively), yes? And most of us don't go out of our way to start a meaningful conversation with a stranger. Heck, most of us probably have phone messages from dear friends and relatives that we can't seem to find the energy to answer.  

So why not make the time to sit down with each other, say "I want to hear your story. I'm ready. I'm listening." Creative Mothering workshops ask participants to consider questions like 

o  What stories in my family have gone or still go untold, and why? 
o  What stories do I choose to live out? 
o  What stories have changed me most?
o  If you could tell one story for the betterment & growth of a future generation of women in the church, what would that story be?

Twelve women attended my first official workshop, and the two-and-a-half hours we spent sharing, freewriting, and reading contemporary poems together felt fleeting. Chocolate may have been involved. Singing too. I assumed I was asking these women to sacrifice their time, a pristine Saturday afternoon. But the #1 suggestion I've heard so far: make the workshop longer. 

Last Sunday, I read my poetry in a Mennonite Church for the first time at the invitation of Joel Miller, pastor and arts advocate. My "sermon" consisted of telling the stories behind my stanzas, then sharing the poems themselves.  The poems were projected on the sanctuary wall, allowing the congregation to visually interact with the words as they listened.

I felt wobbly up there at the microphone, like an out-of-body experience. I expected at any moment that my great-great grandmas would shush me down from the pulpit or hand me a hymnal, get me to sing someone else's words in a voice Swiss-German ancestors would recognize. But at the same time, I felt the rooted presence of generations of women in my family holding me steady, keeping my voice from cracking. They were there, and so were their stories. They were there, and so were the stories they had always wanted to tell.

Many thanks to Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship for further inspiring me to be my whole self, even--and especially--within my faith community. And to Greta Holt-- for the photographs, baklava, and hospitality.  

1 comment:

  1. What you are doing is just so awesome - I do wish I could be there and participate. I have joined a writing workshop and am writing my memoir. First meeting I received excellant critical feed-back. It is am awesome thing.