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 is, 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!
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.
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.
What People Say About Working With Caits
"In this age of fury and despair over our collective well-being and fate, Caits class provides poets with the tools of hope. She conjures this hope with a variety of exercises, diverse selections of contemporary poems, workable prompts, and a few pointers toward a spiritual and ecological practice. I have never taken a poetry workshop in which I was so productive. I’d call her class inspirational." — Susan Chute
"Caits gives and gives and gives to this workshop. Our class created & practiced magic through interpersonal care and consideration for the minute. Plus it was really fun." — Parisa Yekalamlari
The workshop was truly a magical experience for me; and I'm not just saying that, I wasn't writing for a year before the class. I wouldn't say I was stuck (maybe I was), but I wasn't really inspired and I had convinced myself that I wasn't good about writing specific topics, but the workshop showed me that yes, I can branch out; yes, I can be experimental; and yes, I can be a witness and write about what's going in the world around me. Overall, I left the workshop with a new confidence! It was such a pleasure to work with you and this amazing, life-changing class syllabus." — Erika Jeffers
“Thank you again for such a magical and transformative workshop. Your method of teaching and approach to generation is so beautiful and effective in a way I haven’t experienced it before, and I’m so thankful for it, and you!” — Jonina Diele
The Transformative Language Arts Network is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization
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