Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Affinity CoLab is seeking literary & visual art submissions: The Power of Three — Deadline: Monday, February 15, 2021.

Affinity Colab:
Call for Submissions


Submissions Deadline Period
Issue #6: The Power of Three: Friday, January 15, 2021 to Monday, February 15, 2021

Your submission could be anything, as long as the theme of the work has an element of three: a story written from three perspectives, a memoir piece about three objects, a conversation among three people, an image or piece of art that celebrates the number three in any way, etc. Have fun! Happy creating!

Submissions of original work may be submitted to submissions@affinitycolab.org.

Guidelines
All genres accepted in the following formats:

Poems, short stories, flash fiction, memoir, essays, etc. should be sent in as a Word doc/docx or Google doc. You may send up to five pieces per submission. Multiple submissions may be on one document; please title each piece on separate pages.

Poem line guidelines: 3-40 lines

Word count for flash fiction: 50-500 words

Max. word count for short fiction or creative nonfiction: 3,000 words

Visual Artists: please tell us about your work and send us up to five images of your pieces

Include a short bio: writers and artists are encouraged to promote their books, creative projects, links to website, blog, and social media, if applicable

Copyright
All artists retain full rights to their work.

See submissions information to share online.


See Issue #5, Ode to the Odd, here

 
Affinity CoLab Presents
20 East Bridge Street, Suite 103
Spring City, PA 19475
www.affinitycolabpresents.org

Monday, December 14, 2020

Join Anthony Orozco on Zoom—Thursday, January 7th, 2021, at 6 pm EST.

 


Join Anthony Orozco on Zoom!


When: Thursday, January 7th, 2021, at 6 pm EST


Where:
TinyURL.com/VirtualBard to reach us on Zoom


If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042


And below is a sample poem from our featured poet:


 

GLASS

some call them/
Prince Rupert’s drops/
others say/ Batavian tears/
molten glass/ severed and drowned/
in frigid waters/ cut me while I’m hot/
 steal all of my warmth/ and I take new
shape/ a teardrop/ one end smooth/
and nearly indestructible/ and
the other end/ a fragile wisp/
like a trip wire/ hidden
in the tall grass/
it can trigger
me to burst/
into sharp
blades
/ so be
careful
now/
with
    how    
you
tou
ch
m
e

 

And here is a video of Anthony Orozco offering a poem to the world.

 


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Giving Tuesday 2020 — Donate to Berks Bards!


Berks Bards is a poetry-promoting nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization. With no state arts grant funding likely available in 2021 due to the pandemic's impacts, Giving Tuesday as December 1, 2020, is a great opportunity to support Berks Bards with a tax-deductible donation.

Donations later into December, until the end of the tax-year of 2020, are also welcome. Every and any amount is appreciated and will make a huge difference in our community work with our poetry reach.

Here are the ways you can make a donation:
 

  • Make an online PayPal donation at TinyURL.com/BerksBards (this can be via a PayPal account or just with a credit card but using PayPal as a payment processor)
  • Send a check made out to Berks Bards > email us at berksbards at gmail dot com for our mailing address
  • If it's more practical to wait until later in 2021, keep us in mind for the future


Thank you for you to those who have supported us in the past, to those who are able to afford to support us now, and to everyone who shares word of our community-geared work through the lens of poems. Our gratitude is more immense than we can fit into beloved language.

And remember to keep connected well one conversation at a time, in these tumultuous moments we are all surviving through nowadays. It's important for every heart. [] I felt it shelter to speak to you. — Emily Dickinson

Sincerely,
Your friends at Berks Bards


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Join Sylvia Dianne "Ladi Di" Beverly on Zoom—Thursday, December 3rd, 2020, at 6 pm EST.



Join Sylvia Dianne "Ladi Di" Beverly on Zoom!


When: Thursday, December 3rd, 2020, at 6 pm EST


Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard to reach us on Zoom


If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042


And below is a sample poem from our featured poet:

 

Ancient Oaks

Emerald Green Moss
  of Ancient Oaks
Curved arches lined
  Enchanted Forest
 Wondering hour of natural
    ceremonies
Animals running wild at night
  hiding out in still of autumn
  afternoon.  
Come out, come out, creatures
  of night.  
 I will not walk alone in stillness
   of day
Mystic varied colored leaves
  are forever in sight.
Texture of moss, I do not want
  to feel or even see up close.
Is this my imagination running
  wild or is it really real?

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Poets' Pause on BCTV: Monthly Interviews with Poets.

Every month, Marilyn Klimcho of Berks Bards hosts our television show called Poets' Pause on BCTV. Through the show, she interviews local and regional poets, but she has recently expanded into interviewing poets from further away through our connections and resources in the literary community since the virtual world is largely how so much is done nowadays because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In working to see the always-there silver linings even in hard times, we are very grateful to understand the value of how working virtually now better allows us to collaborate with and feature even more poets than in the past, oftentimes through one poet in our circle of knowing introducing us to others. We have been incredibly thankful for this opportunity in the midst of so many community-wide limitations.

 This episode highlights Maya Spence.

 

Marilyn also recently interviewed Jesse Alexander. Berks Bards will be featuring him during April 2021 as National Poetry Month.

 


You can find these and other interviews on YouTube under the show's title through BCTV and also through the BCTV website.

Monday, October 19, 2020

November 2020: two poetry workshops at Berks Encore's senior centers.

Marilyn Klimcho of Berks Bards is teaching two poetry workshops for seniors through Berks Encore at different center locations in November 2020.

Poetry Workshop *Tuesday, November 3 @ 12.30 pm 

 (as of the scheduled date, this workshop is rescheduled 

to *Tuesday, November 10 at 11.15 am)

 Berks Encore — Strausstown Center
44 East Avenue
Strausstown, PA 19559
Any questions? Contact the center @ 610.488.5770

&

Poetry Workshop
Thursday, November 5 @ 10 am
Berks Encore — Fleetwood Center
14432 Kutztown Road
Fleetwood, PA 19522
Any questions? Contact the center @ 610.944.9242
 

 

Update as of Wednesday, October 29:

 

 A third poetry workshop will be hosted at Berks Encore's new senior center in Douglassville. 

Poetry Workshop — Monday, November 30 @ 10.30 am
Berks Encore — Douglassville Center
2144 Weavertown Road
Douglassville, PA 19518
Any questions? Contact the center @ 610.582.1603

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Join Berks County Poet Laureates Heather H. Thomas, Sandra Fees, & Jayne Relaford Brown on Zoom—Thursday, November 5th, 2020 at 6 pm.

 


 (Heather H. Thomas Photo Credit: Alexandra Whitney)

Join Berks County Poet Laureates Heather H. Thomas, Sandra Fees, & Jayne Relaford Brown on Zoom!


When: Thursday, November 5th, 2020 at 6 pm


Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard to reach us on Zoom


If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042

 

*

 

This reading is to bring attention to the 9th Berks Poet Laureate Competition, hosted by Reading Area Community College. 

Heather H. Thomas and Sandra Fees are past poet laureates, while Jayne Relaford Brown is the current Berks County Poet Laureate.

Submissions for the current competition are due in December 2020.

See https://racc.edu/poetry for all guidelines.


 

Below are sample poems and biographies for our featured poets:



Atonement
By Heather H. Thomas


Which one travels
toward the stranger?
 

Who in nightspeed slits
of borders, time zones
 
word-maps crossing
multilingual
 
what’s on the tongue
risking trust
 
without translation
atonement in a zip of light
 
drawn across the sky’s
at(one)ment
 
as the light shifts
but does not separate
 
one with other, one.



*

 

Heather H. Thomas is the award-winning author of Vortex Street (FutureCycle Press, 2018), Blue Ruby, Resurrection Papers, Practicing Amnesia, and a bilingual selected poems, Reconocimento/Recognition. Berks County Poet Laureate 2008-2010, Heather’s honors include a Rita Dove Poetry Prize, a Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative American Poetry, and a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her poems are translated and published in Albanian, Arabic, Italian, Lithuanian, Spanish, and Swedish. She has poems forthcoming in Planet In Crisis, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and The Shining Rock Poetry Anthology.

  

Threshold
By Sandra Fees


Stumbling upon the smile
of fox eyes at the jagged
 
edges of dark
the agile limbs poised
 
at the threshold of seasons
breath held
 
our bodies mutually reticent
our muzzles full of light and dark
 
mouthing life and death.
The winter fur is rust
 
red as my sister’s wavy hair
and I think of her winding
 
her way in the wild habitat
of each small injury:
 
loss of sight, loss of love—
each illuminating a mystery
 
curious as my hand
reaching across the clearing
 
as if to stroke
the lengthening silk of her.



*

 

Sandra Fees (she/her) is the author of The Temporary Vase of Hands (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and Moving, Being Moved (Five Oaks Press, 2017). She served a term as Berks County Poet Laureate (2016-2018), and her work has appeared in The Blue Nib, Kissing Dynamite, and Sky Island Journal.

 

EVENING READING AT THE SILENT WRITING WORKSHOP
By Jayne Relaford Brown

 
First mouthful after sunset,
Slow-savored, tongued,
Palpable, luscious as
Melon, pleasure, nectar.
 
Melanin, puncture, neck brace
every word as joyously received,
sounded silently in listeners’ mouths
round enough to hold whole eggs.



*

 


Jayne Relaford Brown is the 2019-2021 Poet Laureate for Berks County, Pennsylvania. She is the author of My First Real Tree, a book of poems from FootHills Publications.  Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including Blueline, Cider Press Review, Alligator Juniper, All We Know of Pleasure, and as the title poem in I Am Becoming the Woman I’ve Wanted.  Brown was a finalist in this year’s Steve Kowit poetry competition. She received an MFA from San Diego State, and taught college writing in San Diego and Pennsylvania until retiring in 2018.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Affinity CoLab is seeking literary & visual art submissions: Ode to the Odd — Deadline: Thursday, October 15, 2020.

Affinity Colab:
Call for Submissions


Submissions Deadline
Issue #5: Ode to the Odd: Thursday, October 15, 2020

Got something SUPER WEIRD? Affinity CoLab is looking for material that will create a temporary distraction from our ultra strange reality and provide enjoyment and sweet respite with an Ode to the Odd. So bring us your oddities, folks! We accept all genres. Please feel free to pass along this request for submissions to family and friends...especially the odd ones!

Submissions of original work may be submitted to submissions@affinitycolab.org.

Guidelines
All genres accepted in the following formats:

Poems, short stories, flash fiction, memoir, essays, etc. should be sent in as a Word doc/docx or Google doc. You may send up to five pieces per submission. Multiple submissions may be on one document; please title each piece on separate pages.

Poem line guidelines: 3-40 lines

Word count for flash fiction: 50-500 words

Max. word count for short fiction or creative nonfiction: 3,000 words

Visual Artists: please tell us about your work and send us up to five images of your pieces

Include a short bio: writers and artists are encouraged to promote their books, creative projects, links to website, blog, and social media, if applicable

Copyright
All artists retain full rights to their work.

See submissions information to share online.

Affinity CoLab Presents
20 East Bridge Street, Suite 103
Spring City, PA 19475
www.affinitycolabpresents.org

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Join Theresa Rodriguez on Zoom—Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 6 pm.

 


Join Theresa Rodriguez on Zoom!


When: Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 6 pm


Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard to reach us on Zoom


If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042


And below is a sample poem from our featured poet: 

 

My Journal

Within my world there is a sacred place,
Where I can hide and then reveal my heart;
Where thoughts and feelings go, and become art;
It is a sanctuary, hallowed space.
Creating something new and touched with grace,
I put my mind to pen, and then impart
My soul's outpourings through my mind, to start,
Then show my whole raw self with open face.

And when complete, I then perfect my words,
And get them ready for the world to see;
I take them from these pages, then display
Them out for those who read, and hear. This girds
Me up for naked vulnerability.
Indeed, I offer all I am this way. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friends Helping Friends Fundraiser via Boscov's for Local Nonprofits, Including Berks Bards.

Every year, Berks Bards is a part of Friends Helping Friends, a fundraising event hosted by Boscov's across communities where stores are located. Customers who participate during one day or both days of this two-day event are able to support the nonprofit of their choice during their shopping because 5% of total sales are donated to the ones you note wanting to benefit from your purchase. There is also a 20% off discount on a wide variety of products for sale, as a perk.

Please be sure to select Boscov's Berkshire at checkout in shopping online to be able to search and find Berks Bards from the available drop-down options of nonprofits to support.

Shopping in-person and online will all count toward this fundraising offered by Boscov's.

This year, Boscov's simplified the process in a new approach due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so instead of those of us helping to run nonprofits selling tickets for the perks, how the rules have worked in the past, all you have to do is note what participating nonprofit you want your purchases to benefit if you're at a register, and if you shop online, you choose the nonprofit you'd like to support at the checkout before finalizing your order.

With state arts grant funding impacts due to the pandemic meaning funding we normally apply for and receive may not be offered at all in 2021 as a usual part of our support in keeping our programs in local communities, this fundraising is an incredibly useful opportunity for Berks Bards and many other vital nonprofits. 

We ask that if you have any shopping to do at Boscov's in-person or online flexibly by mid-October, please mark your calendar, and help to support our efforts as you shop. We are so grateful for the support we receive and how it helps us to stay active in communities in a time when poetry is showing its deep value even more at the surfaces of daily living in a far from easy world we're all sharing nowadays. Thank you, and please pass word of this along if you know of anyone who may have some shopping plans in mind in mid-October!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Remembering Berks County Poet Doug Arnold, Former Host of Our BCTV Show Called, ''Poets' Pause.''

In late August, Doug Arnold, a local poet who hosted our show Poets' Pause on BCTV before it was in the hands of Berks Bards to manage—passed away at the age of 73. Here is his obituary.

Marilyn Klimcho, as a part of our team of volunteers for Berks Bards for decades, took the proverbial baton of hosting Poets' Pause on bctv.org from Doug a few years ago; she puts an incredible amount of time into scheduling local and regional poets in Pennsylvania as well as some from out of state, reading their books, and preparing for interviews with them. Seeing the work she does has taught us a lot about the television-specific dedication and investment Doug handled on behalf of the community, and for poetry, before her.
 
As a tribute to Doug, we wanted to share a poem by him, and this one, we feel, is ultimately a phenomenal example of how language has the unique ability to keep flowing onward and to help others by way of a certain writer's mind and heart through inspiration, relating, chipping away at the often complex art of healing in our hard world, and needed understanding. When we save and also share a poet's words, both the poet and the poem continue to teach us. We are honored to bring you this poem by Doug, now, and encourage you to pass it onward, if its impact stirs you enough to want it to keep floating along in our world.
 
The Travels
of Dangerous Thoughts
By Doug Arnold


Most thoughts pass casually through,
zephyrs, barely ruffling our meadows,
without enough presence to seize or shape
any finite space. Don't call them back;
they're all part of what was never meant to be.

However, once in a while, a solemn figure strides
from the tall grass, and at first glance we believe
it to be just another discredited unicorn. But,
the prudent eye sees that it is a substantive thought,
a real one with the symmetry of two horns,
and enough gravitas to anchor its hooves. Why else
except that it knew that time was in heat,
would it have now emerged? Eventually it'll be driven
into the herd where even this thought
will also be milked and then slaughtered,
Yet, unlike the others, it is not barren, so
                   its offspring bears watching.

This poem was written by Doug Arnold on the 22nd of May in 2011.

Friday, August 28, 2020

9th Berks County Poet Laureate Competition 2021: Now Accepting Submissions.

Submissions are welcome now into early December 2020 for the 9th Berks County Poet Laureate Competition, for 2021, sponsored by Reading Area Community College.

Berks Bards is honored to be a collaborating organization for this laureateship.

 

 This competition is for adults who are residents of Berks County, Pennsylvaina.

Visit www.racc.edu/poetry to see all details for the competition.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Join Randolph Bridgeman on Zoom September 3rd, 2020 at 6 pm

 



Join Randolph Bridgeman on Zoom!


When: September 3rd, 2020 at 6 pm


Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard


If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042


Below is a sample poem from our featured poet:

when i write

sometimes i can hear the boy i once was
answering for things that wasn’t
my fault

in my writings like the spark of a welding
rod against the metal of conformity

or in my words that appear like those on
faded blackboards in empty summer
classrooms

they are as elusive as the moonlight was
in the tall grass around my secret
fishing hole

and are like a rope swing tied to a limb
above a dry creek bed

they chop at the air like that metal bladed
fan in my curtain less window

in that bedroom where i pumped up
my daisy BB gun until my arm
got tired

then shot a sparrow off the sill and watched
with a curious pleasure as it spiraled
to the grass below

there is something there in my writings more
than childhood cruelty

a meanness –

that comes with the determination of a bull fly
beating itself against a kitchen window

a secret shame –

the kind that comes only out of abuse
or from the turning of heads
and the loss of innocence

Read the biography of Randolph Bridgeman below:

Randolph Bridgeman graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland. He is the recipient of the prestigious Edward T. Lewis poetry prize. His poems are published in numerous poetry reviews and anthologies. He has five books of poems, South of Everywhere 2005, Mechanic on Duty 2008, The Odd Testament 2013, The Poet Laureate of Cracker Town 2015, and The Not So Happy Hour Poems 2020.

“The way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths….”
                 ~ Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Saturday, August 1, 2020: May 2020 Poetry Retreat via Zoom.




Next month, Dr. Robert Fillman who teaches English locally at Kutztown University is hosting what’s called, “May Poetry Retreat 2020,” rescheduled to an online event from springtime, as a single-day retreat through Zoom, sponsored by King's College and Wilkes University. Poets can spend the day generating new material, sharing their work, and talking with other poets. Opt for any (or all) of three creative writing workshops, sign up for a spot at one of two Zoom readings, or spend some quiet time writing. There will be Zoom breakout rooms throughout the day for small group discussion on the side, as preferred. Poets of all experience levels are welcome.

When: Saturday, August 1, 2020


Time: 9 am - 3 pm


Cost: $15.00 per person


To Register: email kingswritingconference@gmail.com

Monday, July 13, 2020

Join Susan Sonde on Zoom August 6th, 2020 at 6 pm


Join Susan Sonde on Zoom August 6th, 2020 at 6 pm

Berks Bards welcomes Susan Sonde to join us online on Zoom!

When: August 6th, 2020 at 6 pm

Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard

If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042

Below is a sample prose poem from our featured poet:

FELINE PASTORAL, FELINE BLUES

My black and white tuxedo cat stares up at me. His world was once a cane, the hours took turns beating him; hung him like a slab of meat in their abattoirs. Rage cut his tongue in two. Tonight the wind retaliates. The leaves prattle on and on without surcease. Dust hurls itself at passersby. UPS delivers daily

the long insomnia-riddled nights. Clocks grow surly and the Devil leaps from a deviant’s throat. East to west, stove tops hustle, pushing kettles beyond their boiling points. The world’s gone rogue, juggles live bands and hand grenades while it wire walks. Sighs and whispers say all’s ending, yet the clouds still patrol the morning skies, yellow-gray in their gray barges.

Query the sounds a mad woman hears. Query the thoughts her mind shapes, the cries snow makes falling knife-like towards her throat.

What if the fork that nestles in a napkin’s folds ransacked the cloth in which it shelters and thinking for itself just long enough, found a heart in which to thrust itself? What if sunset called and no one came, or the sand on beaches

decried their emptiness…absence of footfall saddening them. Oh sunset your ravens worry me, your chicks are poorly loved. Deafening are the blows dealt the one who receives them. In air silence resonates, holds secrets to the stars and compound interest.

Some believe in the benefits of believing; invest heavily in the concept of an afterlife: standing room only, angels crowding about them, wings stuffed inside Hawaiian shirts; leis caged around their pale white throats.

Oh child of aging bone and fur, oblivious on your cushion. I kneel beside you…starving inmate invited to a banquet. Let’s enter our eternal rest together: ours the chair in which no one’s ever sat, ours the sea in which no protozoan ever swam. No doors lead out that don’t lead in.

No knowledge there of the weather, none of the blues. No shuteye to offer the departing.

Read the biography of Susan Sonde below:



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Join Ken Pobo on Zoom July 2nd, 2020 at 6 pm





Berks Bards welcomes Ken Pobo to join us online on Zoom!

When: June 2nd, 2020 at 6 pm

Where: TinyURL.com/VirtualBard

If required, please enter the Meeting ID 759 062 6042


Below is a sample poem from our featured poet:

COVID-19 AND DAHLIAS


When I exhale in my mask

my glasses fog up. Today is humid.

I can barely see where I’m going.

That’s nothing new. My path

is always hazy. I have dahlias to pot up.

They need a head start so we can

enjoy them before fall. It’s not raining

but it feels like rain wants to visit.

I think of sturdy stalks,

Buds breaking open. Where will we be

in August? I may need the dahlias

to provide beauty, names

of the dead almost visible,

so many names. I put the pot

with two scaur swinton dahlias

near the shed, ask them

to do me a favor: grow,

be vital, bloom your pink heads off.

Bring a cloud down

and ask it to sing on the roof.

Listen to Ken Pobo's "Obscure Oldies" radio show on Saturdays from 6-8pm by visiting http://www.widecastradio.com/


Read Ken Pobo's Bio below:

Kenneth Pobo was born on August 24, 1954, in Elmhurst, Illinois, but he grew up one town over, in Villa Park. He attended Washington Elementary School, Jackson Jr. High School, and Willowbrook High School. His father Louis was a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and his mother Myrtle was a homemaker. He has no siblings.For college, he attended Wheaton College in Illinois and for his M.A. and Ph.D. (in English in Creative Writing) he attended the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He received his doctorate in 1983. He began writing poetry on July 4, 1970, song lyrics in the style of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by his still-favorite band, Tommy James and the Shondells. Writing lyrics became tiring due to the endless choruses and rhymes, and by the end of high school he turned more to free verse. He still enjoys working in more formal verse from time to time, but generally his work is in free verse. His first poem was published in 1974 in a small magazine called Jean’s Journal. He is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. Recent books include Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), Loplop in a Red City (Circling Rivers), Dindi Expecting Snow (Duck Lake Books), and Wingbuds (cyberwit.net). He has two chapbooks forthcoming, Your Place Or Mine from The Poetry Society of Alabama and Book of Micah from Moonstone Arts. Two full-length books are forthcoming: Uneven Steven from Assure Press and Opening from Rectos Y Versos Editions. His interests in gardening and music have been central to his writing. Songs, usually from the sixties and often relatively obscure, float in and out of his lines. The garden is a central metaphor, a place of joy and meditation—but also of disease and death. Human rights issues, especially as they relate to the LGBTQIA+ community, are also a constant presence in his work. In addition to poetry, he also writes fiction and essays. He currently has an interest in blending forms more, exploring the shifting boundaries between poetry and fiction. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, from 1977-1983 (teaching assistant); the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, from 1983-1987 (Instructor), and for the past thirty-plus years at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania (Associate Professor in Creative Writing and English). In 2007, he won the Lindback Award for excellence in teaching. He retired in May 2020.Catch his radio show, “Obscure Oldies,” on Saturdays from 6-8pm EST at www.widecastradio.com


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Our Poetry News: May 2020.


Poetry, All Art, & Their Roles in Our Everyday Lives
By Jennifer Hetrick, President of Berks Bards


Poetry—as a literary, vocal, and often physical form of art—is a part of everyday life often more than people realize, and this means there is room for it to be noticed even in our jobs and work-worlds.



If you slow down enough to recognize it, poetry can and does play a role in many of our life-minutes across waking, meals, working, conversations with those who grow to matter to us, time spent outdoors, grocery shopping, when we’re walking or driving in parking lots, doing laundry, and in our moments of silence. And the more we open up to gleaning its place in our lives, the more we potentially begin to sense and speak it in our day-to-day living.



Photo Credit: Valentin Salja

Each May, Mental Health Month is a fitting segue in leaving behind April as National Poetry Month. This theme-honoring month focused on awareness and breaking stigmas to help people feel less judged and instead more comfortable accepting themselves, welcoming the benefits of working on ourselves within and on the outside, began in 1949, according to youth.gov.



Marika Horacek-Kunkle, MA, LPC, ATR-BC, a Breakthrough Therapist at the Caron Treatment Centers location in South Heidelberg Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, a little over an hour northwest of Philadelphia, shares her insights on the value of Mental Health Month in addition to poetry’s value in an everyday sense as well as that of all art.



“I’ve volunteered extensively at the Helen Keller National Center, Free Arts NYC, Wernersville State Hospital, and the Greater Reading Mental Health Alliance in art advocacy, most recently joining the Muhlenberg Township Arts Board locally.”



Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she co-facilitated weeklong experiential personal growth workshops in the Breakthrough program at her campus; she also facilitates art therapy groups and is inspired daily by her belief in the healing powers of creativity and art-making.



“Historically, Westerners have had the tendency to focus on physical health, and by ‘health,’ most frequently, that has been defined as lack of illness—not necessarily that someone is engaged in self-care or actively engaging in practices promoting their wellness," Horacek-Kunkle reflects. “Having a month devoted to increasing awareness of mental health is essential in helping to increase awareness that individuals are multifaceted, made of many different elements.”



She points out that, “When someone’s mental health is compromised, all other aspects of their wellness are impacted. Mental Health Month provides a platform to discuss how mental health can be impacted and the amazing benefits to engaging in creative activities like art and poetry.”



Some folks say art is necessary at a soul-level, and for the good of our hearts and mental states, for us as creatures of this earth.



“Art has been an essential part of humanity since its inception when individuals first had the ability to make marks,” Horacek-Kunkle adds. “Whether creative exploration has had utilitarian purpose, commemorated events, or conveyed information about a culture, art has been imbued in all aspects of our lives. Creativity is necessary for the soul, and I utilize art therapy book author Cathy Malchiodi’s definition of the word—‘Creativity is a means of personal-growth, self-understanding, change, and rehabilitation. Art-making not only helps uncover one’s creative potential but also enhances health and wellbeing.’ I have found that individuals may have difficulty accepting their artistic side and feeling that their work can be referred to as art. When we look at it through the lens of creativity, we have an opportunity to widen the types of things individuals can take part in and make when they feel they are being creative. When I am facilitating groups, we discuss creating in a variety of settings with various materials, such as cooking, gardening, auto mechanics, theater, etc. My perspective is that it is imperative that individuals feel they are being creative, as creativity itself is a life-sustaining force, and the way in which an individual engages in creative acts gets to be defined by each person.”



Photo Credit: Laura Chouette

It seems as though there is nothing quite like creating and that the very act of it offers a distinctly different energetic feeling compared to moments of not creating. It often feels uniquely powerful, enlivening, confidence-instilling, beneficial for people and their communities, and like a way to connect and unify people by whatever is created. This is even more possible sensation-wise if they slow down to be in similar energy-oriented space together with something tied to art-making, including writing poetry alone or collectively as well as reading it out loud, performing it, and hearing it.



“Research and literature often refer to the creative flow possible when someone is creating,” Horacek-Kunkle says. “I have experienced being in these flow states, where time cannot be measured, and my world is focused solely on my relationship with my art-making. It is a powerful state, one which I think artists strive for within, once they’ve had a personal experience with feeling in the zone, in flow. I also feel that art is about relationships, the relationship between the artist and their materials and then between the piece of art and the viewer, if it comes to that level of creation. Art is a connecting force in life, if people are open to experience it in that way. It is also important to note that the flow and exhilaration of creating is separate from any finished piece. In art therapy, the focus is on the process of making, not on the creation of a product.”



In certain cases, some people assume poetry and other forms of art are not something they can relate to, perceiving them as abstract, obscure, or hard to relate to and understand. Poetry from past centuries and decades, not contemporary, or written very cryptically, can often reinforce this, but thankfully, there are plenty of accessible poems out in the world, and the best of writers communicate in language which people at different levels can grasp and appreciate so that it’s more universal in feel and reach.



Horacek-Kunkle explains how pushing poetry and different approaches to art away can happen.



“Our first experiences with art-making and writing have a lasting impact on our self-assessment of our own abilities,” she notes. “Often, we want to discount means of art we have attempted when we have not had successful responses from others, when shared. People can easily get caught up in the concept of right and wrong in creating and writing instead of allowing themselves to feel whether something speaks to them from a deeper place.”



A societally relevant and relatable poem to mention here is one by Nayyirah Waheed who is sometimes referenced as one of a good handful of Instapoets, young writers sharing often very brief poems on Instagram. Less active since last year on the social media platform, she still has a wide-reaching range of fans as more than 600,000 followers on Instagram, but her brevity-rich poems are easily discovered by looking up her name on Google under the Images tab.



the hard season

will

split you through.

do not worry.

you will bleed water.

do not worry.

this is grief.

your face will fall out and

down your skin

and

there will be scorching.

but do not worry.

keep speaking the years from

their hiding places.

keep coughing up smoke

from all the deaths you have

died.

keep the rage tender.

because the soft season will

come.

it will come.

loud.

ready.

gulping.

both hands in your chest.

up all night.

up all of the nights.

to drink all damage into love.



—therapy



“Poetry is valuable because it helps individuals to find and use their own voice,” Horacek-Kunkle adds. “It provides a way for one to make sense of the world as well as let go of ideas that may not serve an individual. One of the most important discussions we can have with others is about the power of language. We are constantly creating with our words and actions—our inability to recognize that creation in each moment does not limit the process. Neuroscience research supports that the choices we make consistently reinforce the neural pathways in our brains, therefore, using disempowering vocabulary limits our self-concept.”



It is so easy to not catch our self-berating sentences and how we can trap ourselves and hold ourselves down by the words we use. Yet they have the flexibility to reinforce our power, deservingness, and growth, if we can build our awareness to realize this.



“One of the things I discuss in group art therapy workshops is the use of diminishing words, such as ‘just’ and ‘but,’” she explains. “I attempt to slow people down to provide them with the opportunity to witness what they are creating with their speaking and writing. Language can be used to imprison us or to free us. Oftentimes, patients need to be introduced to their power and efficacy in utilizing language to free themselves of burdens.”


Photo Credit: Trust "Tru" Katsande



And she shares more in how she’s used poetry in her work in teaching others to give themselves permission to create.



“I’ve used poetry to spark art-making with art therapy directives, and I’ve had individuals connect with poems to gain insight that they are not alone, that there are people who can relate to their struggles,” she says. “I’ve also seen people who had long given up on considering themselves artists—newly finding and enjoying the act of creating again, especially when there is a focus on process, not product. Introducing poetry to groups is beneficial for patients to see how much is open to interpretation and how much the reader’s perspective alters the potential meanings in a piece of work, and of course, this can be relevant to all people. Poetry is also an important way to illustrate the power of language, particularly in considering specific word choices and imagery. Poetry and other types of art provide a person with opportunities to make choices, creating something of their own, whether independently or in highly structured environments, like the campus where I work.”



And speaking of our job-worlds for the rest of us as a part of our larger everyday worlds, here is an excerpt from Gary Soto's poem called, “Self-Inquiry before the Job Interview."



I shook hands that dripped like a dirty sea.

I found a chair and desk. My name tag said my name.

Through the glass ceiling, I saw the heavy rumps of CEOs.

Outside my window, the sun was a burning stove,

All of us pushing papers

To keep it going.



She also offers an eye into how poetry can be expansive for a person in welcoming growth of thought across concepts and cultures, in addition to helping to better develop everyday skills tied to interacting with those around us.



“It can be a helpful way to present a topic as well as provide structures that can then be emulated as a starting place for work,” she adds. “Poetry is also an amazing exercise in listening. I learned from a poetry therapist that it is important to read each poem out loud in the group three times (and across voices of different people versus only one person reading a poem verbally, too), as each is an opportunity to hear something new. This is an incredible lesson in slowing down, being in the present moment, and practicing mindfulness.”



When Horacek-Kunkle initially heard of Berks Bards as a local poetry-promoting nonprofit in Berks County, first founded in 1998, she says she felt excited to hear about a group like this existing in her own community.



“I always appreciate when artists have venues to be together, share their art, and support one another,” she admits. “Plus, art-making can be an isolating process, so having opportunities to be with other artists, even via Zoom, now, is vital. It is also important to have safe places to share what you have been working on, whether to receive accolades or encouragement, or to just feel heard. And talking through struggles and hearing or seeing others’ work can help to spark our own creativity.”



As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Berks Bards receives state arts grant funding from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts through the Berks Arts Council based inside GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in the City of Reading.



“Roy Fox Lichtenstein (who lived from 1923 until 1997), a peer of Andy Warhol in the 1960s in the new art movement, said that, ‘Art doesn’t just transform. It just plain forms,’ Horacek-Kunkle says. “Art is one of the building blocks of culture, and by providing communities access to the arts through grants like the ones awarded by these Pennsylvania-based arts-advocacy organizations, allows for engagement with the self and with society. The arts engage many areas of the brain, promote understanding, sharing of cultures, and social skills, to name just a few of the positive aspects made possible when a person engages with art. Other positive attributes promoted when one is creating include increasing observation skills, focus, self-expression, perseverance, collaboration, and risk-taking. These organizations contribute vitally to communities by providing access to the arts, and by doing so, allow individuals to become self-actualized. Access to the arts contributes to an individual’s self-esteem, mental health, and allows for a different approach for self-expression. Art, and specifically poetry, allows for a place to release all the things which are not always able to be said in other ways.”



Poet Mary Oliver, born in 1935, passing away last year, wrote these lines in her poem titled, "Invitation," and its resonance now seems even more in tune with what we're enduring globally and locally than when she created it. We share this excerpt with you, reader, as a final word of comfort and inspiration in what's possible to be glimpsed and known through the fortunate resource of poetry.



it is a serious thing



just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in this broken world.

 *

Marika Horacek-Kunkle is in the process of providing outpatient art therapy services independently in Southeastern Pennsylvania, which may lead to other nonprofit work in the future. She can be reached at PennCreativeArts@gmail.com.