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  • Poems As Prayers: Writing Towards a Just World // with Caits Meissner

Poems As Prayers: Writing Towards a Just World // with Caits Meissner

  • 23 Oct 2019
  • 03 Dec 2019
  • Online
  • 21


Early Bird rate ends 2 weeks before class starts.

Have you ever discovered that a detail you’d once magically, unwittingly predicted in a poem suddenly became true? In this generative workshop, we’ll strive to harness that same mystical energy to write our collective future into existence— through poetry. Inspiration will be mined from movement workers, social change influencers, the inherent genius of nature’s patterns, the starfish’s regenerative limb! We’ll cast hope into the universe through ritual, spellmaking, disruption, and interactive poem-experiments— guided by a motley crew of visionary writers and thinkers. Where we are used to lamenting and pushing against the conditions of what are, participants will be encouraged, when possible, to work from an emergent lens, feeling towards what could be instead.

This course is designed for each student to connect to their own unique social justice intention. Given that the purpose of the workshop is to help participants expand awareness beyond ego-driven concerns, locate and amplify individual sources of creativity, and sense into futures of potential, the workshop offers no prescriptive answers or solutions. Instead, participants will be offered unusual writing exercises meant to coax forward new and unexpected ideas. A series of options will be presented for each individual to select from to ignite or catalyze their own creative responses.

A sample poem that helps illustrate the kind of possibility we are after: Field Trip to the Museum of Human History by Franny Choi imagines a world where the brutality of American policing is an ancient system of the past.

We’ll be inspired by readings from adrienne maree brown, CA Conrad, Aja Monet, Ada Limón, Joy Harjo, June Jordan, Margaret J. Wheatley, Layli Long Soldier, Kimiko Hahn, Harryette Mullen, Daniel Borzutsky, Natalie Diaz, Jaki Shelton Green, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Maggie Smith, Matthew Olzmann, Tracy K Smith, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, José Olivarez, Otto Scharmer, Joshua Bennett, Tom Sleigh, Lucille Clifton, F.J. Bergmann, Martin Espada, Elizabeth Alexander, Ross Gay, Aracelis Girmay, Naomi Shihab Nye, Khadijah Queen, Vievee Francis, Matthew Mendoza, Mary Oliver, Nazim Hikmet, Big Energy Poets, dg nanouk okpik, Alberto Rios and many more!

Week by Week

Each week we’ll engage with a series of diverse readings and thinkers, as well as multiple poems, revolving around a central theme. In response, unexpected poem-generating experiments will be engaged, as well as short and long writing prompts will be offered in service of generating new work well beyond the course conclusion. Many different entry points and options will be laid out for the participant to choose from, encouraged to work intuitively in the direction of what calls their attention, and moves their spirit. Breaking from hierarchical models of top-down power, participants will be asked at times to co-create exercises and curate readings. We’ll share encouraging feedback throughout the process—staying away from deep critique, opting instead for questions, curiosities and other methods of pushing the imagination further.

Week 1 — Clarifying: Setting intention. Welcoming. Naming what is: what are we trying to change? / return to? / conjure? / address? / confront? / move forward?

Week 2 — Returning: What was? Looking back to honor what we’ve lost: what’s been destroyed, taken for granted, colonized. What we miss. Taking stock, then, revising history.

Week 3 — Reimagining: What are we allowed to be? How can we reimagine accepted norms, values, institutions, structures and relationships?

Week 4 — Conjuring: Stretching to make the “unreal” a reality by engaging magic, ritual and fantasy to conjure a new world into existence.

Week 5 — Offering: Looking through the lens of gratitude. Examining the present. Locating, pinpointing and amplifying the good that already exists.

Week 6 — Preparing: Creating maps towards change: manifestos, process notes, blueprints and instructions.

Who Should Take This Class

This generative workshop is for writers looking to confront our broken world with a sense of possibility, to combat writer’s block, begin a new collection, try something out of the ordinary and have some fun! Please note: this experience offers a great deal of choice, and invites the writer to draw from their own interests and internal dialogues. It is not a class that can, or will, dictate how to address our world through a lens of justice, but rather asks the writer to shake open possibilities for emergent futures that can’t yet be seen. If nontraditional learning spaces are not your cup of tea, this class may not resonate. If you are easily overwhelmed by choice and a variety of stimuli, this class may not be for you. If you are open to take a nonlinear journey that requires experimentation and a suspense of typical outcomes from poetry classes, then please join us. The hope is that each participant will leave with a packet of seeds for both their own portfolio, and, if we’re lucky, a glimmer of a better future we can cull forward.

Class Format

This is an online class. Students should expect to spend at least 3 hours per week engaging resources and readings, trying out writing/creation prompts, and briefly responding to peers’ work from a lens of “I notice, I wonder, I wish.” Our interactions will work towards sustains a welcoming and inspiring community together.

About the Teacher

Caits Meissner is a DIY-spirited, poly-creative writer, artist, and cultural worker. She is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book, Let it Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016), and her poems, essays, and literary comix have been  published in The Guardian, The Literary Review, Narrative, Adroit, Drunken Boat, The Rumpus, VIDA Literary Review, The Feminist Wire, The Normal School, Poetry Magazine’s Harriet blog, and The Offing, among many others. In 2010, she released the wolf & me, an album that Okayplayer named "an impressive blend of poetry, singing and stellar production that takes on a variety of complexions." Erykah Badu called her blend of poetry and music, "Fresh, honest, and loving," with "a delicate heart like mine." With an extensive history in teaching and facilitating community arts programs, Caits currently serves as Director of the Prison & Justice Writing Program at PEN America.

"The Transformative Language Arts Network" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 873 Lansdowne, PA 19050 USA

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