For the last six days, I’ve been immersed in the Power of Words, both lower case (as in how powerful our words can be when it comes to changing the world and our lives) and upper case, as in the 8th annual conference of the same name. For me, this event was a homecoming of many dimensions: the conference was held at Goddard College, my second home (who every knew that this phrase would apply to a dorm room where I live approximately one month divided over three visits each year for the last 15). It was also a conference I founded in 2003. But mostly, I found my way home to that newborn glow of what can happen between us all when we create together stories, poems, songs, performances and exchanges about what matters most.
Maybe that newborn glow also had something to do with the newborn — Nahar Nadi Keefe-Perry — daughter of the TLA Network co-coordinators, Callid and Kristina, who were responsible for organizing the conference. Born less than a month ago, this inquisitive and beautiful new being was a constant reminder to me about how precious, alive, tender and beautiful the life force is.
The things we do at this conference include the usual suspects for most conference (workshops, big group sessions, performances and panels) along with the less-than-usual (talking circles each morning where each of us could speak deeply in a small group, hearing ourselves through having good witnesses and learning how to listen fully to others). Performances were dazzling:
- S. Pearl Sharp’s performance poetry brought to the surface an artful and soulful combination of ceremony, humor, deep wisdom and the astonishing dance of Nailah.
- Kim Rosen recited the poetry of Rumi, Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott and others with great passion and joy.
- Gregory Orr’s reading and talk on poetry as a way to praise the body of the beloved (which could be interpreted as the life force, Book of Poetry, or whatever we love most) illuminated everything I know and want to know about language.
- Nancy Mellon’s combination of superlative storytelling, mythological weaving and anatomy showed us how our bodies are our stories.
- Greg Greenway’s singing, songwriting, guitar- and piano-playing journeyed us through the heart of music in praise of homecoming, liberation and the hard work involved in being fully human.
- Katherine Towler’s reading from the third book in her Snow Island anthology took us to a small Rhode Island island, just on the edge of time and history, and shaped by a kind of yoga of the imagination so visible in her writing.
- The Coffeehouse of Wonder was so gorgeous, full of the most expansive humor and wildest edges of grief, love, joy and courage that those of us in the crowd went wild every few minutes.
But what brought me home most of us was simply being in such a diverse community, covering age (from newborn to elders), race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, life experience in so many varieties that we made a community that had each other’s backs and hearts. Sitting in the back of the haybarn last night were a pact of African American storyteller-shamans. Walking across the campus was a teenage girl who would still share her full imagination with her mother, both of them attending workshops together. Sleeping in the dorms were people ready to stand up and follow their callings as well as those leaning forward to open the door.
I’m back in Kansas through the magical surrealism of plane travel, but I’m still carrying that dazzle and depth, lightness and weight, freedom and connection of being part of the Power of Words.
Pictures (from top): Jen, Callid, Kristina & Kim; Nahar in the arms of Suzanne with beautiful mom Kristina looking on; Katie Towler; Scott and friends performing; a gorgeous pact of shamans; leaving Vermont.