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February 24, 2013

REMEMBERING OUR SISTERS AND BROTHERS: Poetry Reading & Values Conversation

To focus our annual Community Values Conversation, poet Roseann Lloyd invites fellow poets who have written on the subject of lost and missing siblings to present their work. Poets reading include Roseann, Matt Rasmussen, Susan Deborah King, Cheryl Minnema, Larry Schug and George Roberts.

A conversation on the subject of personal experiences with grief and healing with regard to lost siblings will follow.

After the dialogue, the poets will lead everyone in a writing exercise to revisit the content of our discussion from an artistic slant.

Free and open. Everyone welcome, writer/poet or not.

Reading - 3p to 4p Conversation - 4p to 5p Shared Writing - 5p to ?

The poets gathered, with about thirty-five others, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Each poet read for ten minutes and a thoughtful conversation followed.

While the poets were diverse in their histories, their cultures and in the specific circumstances of their loss, each wrote deeply and invitingly about their stories, allowing everyone to explore the landscape of their grief. Common threads were the order of the day.

Were it not for the skill of the poets in placing their grief in such approachable and well-made images, the afternoon could have grown maudlin and gloomy. As it was, everyone felt uplifted, in a sense relieved, there was a space, for a couple of hours, where a subject usually avoided by our cultures was instead approached face-on and investigated.

Our thanks to the poets and to the audience members for a remarkable afternoon.

From Larry Schug:

I thought the reading was a great experience for me as a poet/reader and even more so for me as a human being. Listening to others' stories in a thoughtful way is a way to strengthen the human community. We seem to live in a self-absorbed society, so being able to see into the lives of others was very powerful. It reminded me every person has an important story to tell. The Benedictines talk about listening with the heart and I definitely felt that was happening throughout the reading. I was impressed with the audience and the respect shown to everyone in the room by all.

From Roseann Lloyd:

From Roseann Lloyd

It was moving to hear six poets read our writings about "our brothers and sisters," all in the same reading. There were and are so many angles of reflection on our bonds with our siblings.

The discussion afterwards added to my understanding of grief and the craft of poetry. I appreciated the opportunity to listen and take part in the conversation with all those present.

We decided we'd post some writing exercises for those who want to write... so here's mine.

When my brother disappeared/was presumed dead, I was at first flooded by memories of him as
a small child, and, at the same time, memories from the last time we were together.
I started making a list of images--scenes, gestures, and voices...I sat back quietly at times and felt/thought about all the five senses of childhood, the humidity, the smells, the touch ... for some reason it seemed that summer had more sensory memories than winter, at least for this poem. Maybe because he went away in June, and also we loved the timeless play of summer when we were little. We lived on the outskirts of town with fields and empty lots.

To organize all the disparate images, I remembered the form that Susan Marie Swanson created based on the Dakota Winter Count--to make a list poem with a picture of the primary event of each year. So for my next step of making a poem, I re-arranged the images in chronological order, dropping some and adding others. (The poem is pasted in below).
Pressured by the deadline of a Memorial Service for my brother, I finished the poem in a few weeks and read it out loud at the service. Unknown to me at the time, it wasn't the last poem I'd write for him--it became the title poem of my book The Boy Who Slept Under the Stars.

Writing a list poem is a way to collect pieces over time. You can add to it when a new memory floats up. You'll notice that my list in Part 1 probably has more summers than we actually had. Our childhood stretches out longer... and Part 2, his last summer, is a collection of the final, crucial images that connect the two of us, somehow, in my unconscious world.

If you try writing a poem like this, start out with one picture or scene and wait to see what happens next. Then wait for what seems to be a crucial part of your life together. Follow your own heart/mind. Read what you've written out loud and keep going through tears and laughter.

First Summers and the Last: The Boy Who Slept Under the Stars

the summer our mother held him in a rocking chair
a small flannel comma, the first memory of my life

chubby summer—my longed-for companion
kept slipping off my lap

the no-talking-summer
my job to say He's bashful, what do you want?

and then his first sentence summer
Maybe Y-S, maybe N-O
(who knew it would be his life-time strategy?)

puppy summer all over the bushes and yard:
I got him in trouble yelling
Mama, he's kissing Brownie on the mouth

me-making-roads-in-the-gravel-driveway summer
his John Deere trucks zooming across boulders
the dump twuck loaded to overflowing

our own private radio summer:
Velveeta, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwiches in our little room
Sunday nights in the attic: The Lone Ranger,
Sergeant Preston of the Canadian Mounties

running barefoot in the dark summer:
ghost and kick the can
crawling under the bushes on our elbows like soldiers at war
getting as far as the cornfield: hiding

lying on the grass summer, dozing
looking at the stars

his last summer, the summer he got out his yellow kayak
said he wanted to get on with it if only the rain would stop

the summer our sister took me shopping for clothes
so I'd look pretty in my wheelchair after surgery
and he said, You always look pretty to me

the summer he wheeled me to the Birchwood Café
threatening revenge for telling him ghost stories--
lions in the basement

genealogy summer: which cousin went to rehab
before the Branson Reunion?

the summer he confessed that the childhood word
I'd invented to tease him (still secret)
has been his computer password all along:

the summer he didn’t want to leave his cat, dying of cancer

the summer we talked about mysteries

the lying on the grass summer,
looking at the stars