Category Archives: Community Builders

Writing with Joyce Sutphen

Yesterday I attended the Writer’s Fair at the Chanhassen Library. One of the presenters was Minnesota’s own Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen. She recited poetry to us. Near the end of her hour, she read “April” by Connie Wanek. We were to listen for a word, phrase or image that drew us in. Then we all wrote for 8 minutes. A room of writers wonderfully writing. Including Sutphen.

I loved the phrase “sleet…precipitation by committee”, but chose to write on “You are free to be water now.” Here’s what I wrote, raw and unedited:

Yes, please, snow, go be water, sink down into the ground, slowly, surely, softening, thawing the earth. But not too much at once, no floods please.

Don’t send all our water, our green-grass water, swooshing down the streets, pouring into the sewers, rushing into our streams, rivers, lakes, carrying too many nutrients, too much garbage, too much salt, sand, unraked leaves, soaked tree-cutting flyers and unpicked up dog poop.

Freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, let the water seep inch by inch through the soil, down to the groundwater. The soil cleans the water, contains the water, filters the nasty out.

I cackle at the snow melting, melting away, free to be water, no more crystals, no more structure, just liquid and flow. Be gone snow. Where I shoveled is now clear by the radiance of the sun. But my neighbors have boycotted shoveling in April. I still have to put my boots on, but I will not retrieve my winter coat from the closet.

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A writing group responds…

At Wednesday morning Writing with Rox, I asked the group to respond to the question, “What does community mean to you?” We wrote for five minutes, then shared our responses. Community is drenched in meaning. Read on.

Talking for hours over cups of tea. Support. Warmth. Safety.
~Zoë Josephine (accompanied by a hand-drawn heart around a heart around a heart etc.)

Showing up at a group that I am new to and being welcomed and respected. People I meet only once on a street who offer to hold a door open or help me in other ways-strangers.
I remember a car that pulled over in front of my house and asked if they needed to call “911” as my mother had fallen and I was bending over her…
~Deb C-B

People who know how to pronounce my name.
People who know each other’s problems, try to help but are not too intrusive.
People with a variety of outlooks on life who do not have to convince others their own opinion is the right one.
People who come together to listen to each other, to try to understand each other, and work together when that seems to be called for.
People who can play and laugh together as well as mourn and share their sadness and worries.
~U.

Community means we experience one another enough to be irritated by our eccentricities. And yet these same eccentricities endear us to each other. We are patient with any attempt to communicate and look past what is written to what is meant.
~Sarah Bergstrom

Community is (and began) sitting beneath the big sunny apple trees and Camp Trinity in NoCal singing folk songs like Blowin’ in the Wind, Fire and Rain, Froggy went a courtin’…
As it is now, still singing together, cuddling for warmth because you know you are loved and accepted unconditionally and safe. Writing together, remembering/sharing childhood memories, asking for help and finding it, never having to think you can’t ask for help, seeing and being seen, drumming kirtan, knowing its safe to eat Fun Dip with writing community. Suddenly realizing a roomful of strangers are all familiar, recognized as friends.
~Rox Sadovsky (writingwithrox.blogspot.com)

I notice that something happens when I write with others, an important something that goes a long way towards building community. We all get a turn. We all get a voice, a chance to speak when no one else is speaking. We get to hear what each of us has to say without being interrupted. Had we simply started talking about what community means to us, I think we would have missed the fullness of expression that comes with writing first, then sharing and listening one at a time.

I’ve been with this writing group for about a year and the depth, clarity, and wisdom of this community never fails to inspire me.

Writing Community

Mission of the Loft Literary Center: The Loft advances the artistic development of writers, fosters a thriving literary community, and inspires a passion for literature.

Since my first Loft class nearly 10 years ago, I have been a part of the Loft Literary Center’s community of readers and writers. Classes, one-day workshops, week-long intensives, conferences, readings, book launches, online courses, and contests. Through all of those, my writing has been nurtured by thoughtful, generous writers, several of whom have become close friends.

Miriam Queensen, my screenwriting teacher and dear friend, wrote a post on this very topic of a community of writers. I loved reading the points of view of several teaching artists at the Loft. There’s a little quote from me near the end.

https://writersblock.loft.org/2012/09/26/1323/joining_a_community_of_writers_the_first_step

One of my favorite aspects of the Loft community is that it’s non-academic. I thought I could attend school forever, but after grad school, I discovered I was done. No more jam-packed class schedules, no more grades, no more homework. Those served their purpose at the time. What a relief to enter a Loft class with no need to perform. No need to ever graduate! There was no perfect, no A to grasp at. Sure there was “assignments”, but I didn’t have to do them if I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to please this teacher. And with that, I was sent free.

I could take risks. I could screw up, but it wasn’t even screwing up, it was a first draft! I wrote because I wanted to. I wasn’t competing with the other students. We were cooperating, learning together, supporting each other. Building community. 

Because of the Loft and what I found there, I’m writing today. And reading there tonight. I’m a bit anxious, but it’s my writing community, so I think I’ll be alright.

What are we building?

“What you do is more important than what you say
And what you build is more important than what you do
So what you gonna build today?”

-Guante, hip hop artist, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, social justice activist and educator

At the end of November, I sat on the floor in the back room at Common Roots Cafe for a reading sponsored by dislocate, the journal of the U of MN MFA program. Every seat was full, hence my sitting right up front cooking in my coat because there was no way to take it off while also sipping coffee and nibbling on a fudgey dessert surrounded by (most likely) grad students. We listened to Sarah Fox’s vibrant poetry, Kao Kalia Yang’s powerful memoir piece, and Kevin Fenton’s new novel in progress. All stunning. Absolutely worth driving through the crush of traffic to get there.

Then there was Guante, the speaker of the opening quote for this post. My first impression of him would have to be “shy.” Not the usual adjective for a hip hop artist. He pushed down his black hat onto his head with both hands. He fidgeted a little. He looked alternately at the audience and the floor. As he began his first piece, he transformed. He could barely be contained in the room. Powerful, magnetic, every word and movement filled with purpose. And the words he was speaking, no, performing, revealed a deep wisdom and empathy and urgency of social change. The above quote was only one of many that I connected to. So much so that I bought his album, my first rap/hip hop album ever, and listened to it on the way home.

Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I build on a daily basis. What do I build with my children, my husband, my words? I like the word build. It speaks to creating, constructing, matching pieces, fitting, awareness of how things go together. I want to be a builder.

One of the most important “things” we need to build is community. How do we do that? What do I mean by community? Who are our community builders? These are the questions I plan to explore on this blog. Writing together is one of my main ways of building community and will be one aspect of this blog, but I want to venture into the myriad ways of creating community and also focus on those who are doing that important work. Info on Writing Parties can always be found here under the tab at the top. It would be an honor for me to write with you.

Welcome to Writing Together, a blog about building community.