As Smith (1999) and so many others (Arrien, 1992; Bannerji, 1993, 1991; Boles and Hoeveler, 1996; Caplan, 1993; Crossley, 2000; Hall, 1996, 1993; Holly, 1989; hooks, 1994a, 1994b; Kadi, 1996; Morley and Chen, 1996; Ng, 1995; Ortiz, 1998; Overall, 1998; Parameswaran, 1996; Putnam, Kidd, Dornan, Moore, 1995; Soja, 1996; Trinh, 1991, 1992; Van Den Bergh, 1995) have proven to us: where you stand and how you stand determines much of what you see, feel, know, perceive, etc. It is important then to disclose and ponder our locations. Atwood (2002) offers these thoughts on “those who survive in order to tell what happened”:

...Captivity narratives, castaway narratives, war stories, civil-war stories, slavery narratives, catastrophe stories, memoirs of hard-done-by outlaws and pirates, incest-survivor stories, Soviet Gulag stories, atrocity stories: how much more compelling we find them if we think they’re based on real events, and especially real events that have happened to the writer!

The power of such narratives is immense, especially when combined with artistic power. And the courage required to write them, and sometimes to smuggle them across borders so they can be published, is equally stupendous. These stories exist in a realm that is neither fact, nor fiction, but perhaps both: let us call it enhanced fact (p. 118)”

I am not sure about my own courage or powerfulness but I do know that I felt I had to write some of the things that I have published in these forums. As a person who was sexually abused during my childhood; a mother of a male child; a person from a poverty-oppressed heritage I have struggled to find ways to get healed, become stronger; figure it all out, pass the knowledge on and then move on.

The journey I have been on begs to be summarized now and then into something coherent. Making things make their own sense and putting them out into the world like grown children ready to leave home seems to free up space in me for other things to then enter my life. My sense is that this often happens to people who decide to write in these self-publishing forums (i.e. we get to control what gets said or not said; and as much of what we want to be said -- and this is strengthening). During this journey I discovered eclectic wisdom in Buddhism, Feminism, Creativity/ Expressive Arts. All of this is inside me and it informs my daily life; my praxis; my practice. What I have learned in my own heart, my own bones, my own spirit is knowledge that becomes something I offer to clients, students, activists, readers. From this field of knowledge production comes my belief in my intuition; the trusting of the knowledge clients offer to me (often above what academics might offer me). Which ‘Discipline’ do our clients come from? When a practitioner is regularly depthfully informed from her client group/ her own community how does that wisdom circle back into the professions data bases? This is where my quest always circles back to; not necessarily to the voices of publishers, promotion committees, government representatives, computer-assisted and technologically gifted statisticians, etc. Freud, for example, assumed too much; he did not know as much about healing from incest as most of my incest-recovering clients do. There are lessons for our profession in that we must remain alert to various knowledge-scapes so that we ongoingly bring in new and fortifying insights.

Most Cultural Studies scholars are also activists (and that can be defined very very broadly) ; they propose that we bring our wisdom to the street and the wisdom of the street to academia. This is the life and mission of organic intellectuals.


A case can be made that poetry/creative writing is a natural manifestation of social work and vice versa (think of Jane Addams, Dorothy Livesay, Bridget Moran, Emma Goldman). And it might be the terrain or discursive field in which the insights from all the other disciplines can find ways to express themselves and make themselves heard. In his most recent book, Revolutionary Poetry , Nelson (2000) makes many points that relate to this discussion. He talks about a fortifying powerfulness found in having a sense of connection from belonging within a group of writers who were also or activists. He continues by describing how that powerfulness was disrupted during the McCarthy era. Poets, and others who tried to tell a subversive truth were erased by cowardly intellectuals in the universities. Ivory Tower authorities actively erased our voice and disappeared cranky streety leftist muddy-fisted poets. Nelson, has devoted his life, it seems, to reclaiming these poets who fought in the Spanish war as volunteers against facism; who were union organizers/ farmers/ factory workers in the States; who were comrades with people like Emma Goldman. These people saw their poetry as being their activism. It wasn’t something that was a fancy hobby on the side - it was how they manifested a dimension of their political vision for a different future. They were proud propagandists! The saw themselves as poet-documentary-journalists in a way.

..In their own ways each of these poems offers us something transferable to our own time while retaining something historically bounded that needs to be honored in its difference from us... ..As that interpretive work takes place, the history the poems recount, the history the poems are embedded in, the history these poets struggled within, that history is rewritten into the texts of our own lives. We position ourselves in relation to these poets and the historicity of their lives; and we weave their speech into our own. When these poems and others like them were excluded from the canon we lost some of what we needed as individuals – and as a culture – if we were to situate ourselves in an historically informed present. To recover em now is to remake who we are.” p. 85, Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left, by Cary Nelson.

Nelson makes a case that we are/were punished/exiled, in part, because of academia’s fear of our success on many fronts.

Consider such denials of meaningful relations between poetry and politics, if you will, as a long tradition whose recent flowering presented a considerable threat to the livelihoods of literature professors...The effort to separate poetry and politics was not simply part of a discourse internal to academic literary studies but part of the public positioning and defense of literariness. Part of what is remarkable about this consensus is how long it lasted... p. 66

Nelson continues by saying,

“We are accustomed to grouping poets within literary movements, but thereafter we tend to read and understand their work individually. Yet on the Left the historical conditions of both production and reception are sometimes fundamentally interactive, reactive, and responsive. A poet who seeks in part to be an instrument in a larger musical composition [i.e. an instrument in the women’s movements, the environmental movements, the anti-racism movements, etc.] is not pursuing the same aesthetic as one who thinks only of a solo performance. That does not disallow a distinctive voice but rather turns it toward collective aims and effects.” p. 7

These poets imagined and spoke elegantly about an incomplete and disharmonious world and about a potentially revolutionary future world. Revolutions can be taken in tiny ordinary steps by ordinary people. Below is a poem published in Outlaws (2002, p. 66). But I realize now that it was a poem that I have been writing for years.


in a previous era/ a traditional context
a casual range of smiling gestures
created cohesion
& unstranger-liness.

then/ there:
a handful of special
seeds from my own garden;
a bouquet of roses or lilies;
pies, muffins, cookies
from home-bred recipes;
or something hand
knitted or sewn -

but i have no yard,
no ripe food,
no oven,
no craft - only fresh
precious words -
portable, common,
nutritious, compostable
& un-store-bought.

so nodding, hand held out
i offer these small
poems in neighborliness.

This process of writing, connecting, publishing gives us new ways to be neighbors.


...when you said A. had called regarding December 6 [ceremonies], I wondered if you know that this is the very exact person who first told us about you years ago just after you published Battle Chant. ... She went to a [a conference] ...and when she returned here, she told me that she had heard about... this "incredible group of women in Sudbury". She was full of joy about having met the authors of Battle Chant, and that is when we tried to trace the book to get some copies. T. had a copy of it someone had sent her, and we all read work from Battle Chant out loud at a Christmas party that year. When you sent an email to Books and Company after your attendance at my poetry reading in October 2000, you called it "is this e mail address working?", thanking me for my reading and I sent one in return to you saying ''''IF YOU ARE FROM SUDBURY, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE""". Connections... Lovely. Congratulations to you, for your success in producing Groping Our Way Beyond Grief. Thank you for all your hard work and your vision...

In the quote above, an activist and author in one of the five books communicates how there have been many connections and affirmations between activist women in two different provinces - even though we had never physically met. Through the writing and publishing of our own voices and through the magnificent technology of email we were able to affirm something precious in each other - even long before we had our first face-to-face conversation. Activists acting creatively and making differences in each other’s lives through the power of the word; the power of the text; words and texts minimally mediated or translated through the usual regimes of representation (large profit oriented publishing houses; professional editors; etc.).

The five books I am discussing here - the first being Battle Chant referred to above and the most recent being Outlaws... were produced between 1998 and 2002. Collectively, 16 authors directly contributed; 5 contributed more than one time (and 5 other authors left along the way before their material was published); another nine writers designed quotes for the back of our texts. Other people were involved in the creative shaping of the projects (printers; local book stores and women’s centers/groups encouraging our public readings, etc.). These books range from 75 pages to 120 pages and sell for between $10. and $15.

How do these innovative methods of ‘grounded cultural artifact production’ invigorate the individual writers (many of whom have never ‘published’ before)? How do these playful and experimental texts serve as rallying points for vulnerable populations to feel seen and heard - not just to outsiders but to each other? How does ‘pleasure’ have meaning in these experiences? How much fun can we have producing ‘propaganda’? Below I will describe the five projects individually; how each intellectual and pragmatic adventure advanced my knowledge and expanded/responded to a variety of purposes; and how these experiences might be useful in other contexts and for other communities.
As I describe the finding of voice I am noticing too how my own voice has been found and lost and found and centered and decentered through these moments over the last four years. Joyously I celebrate what these privileged positions have given me. I recognize too that portions of who I am/ who I was/ who I am becoming have become commodified and contained in these pages. Further, as a therapist I am knowledgeable about how slightly I can assert myself and thus shift someone’s voice. It is probable that I have done that in millions of ways along the way with these authors and supporters of our projects. That is my responsibility to own. I try to do so. Influence, is a magical and – sometimes - a morose thing. Previously unpublished people or people who haven’t produced and/or published this kind of experiential / autobiographical creative writing before can be exquisitely and awkwardly tender and tentative. It has not escaped my consciousness that any of the people involved in any way in these projects might have a radically different version of these stories to tell from the one that I am documenting here. Nonetheless, the only story I can offer is my own - and in this fragile moment this is it.

Preceding my first encounter with self-publishing I had been highly invested in producing scholarly writing. I had published scholarly essays in places like Atlantis or in sections of books which had a feminist / anti-racist/ activist/ sociologist agenda or profile. There are many micro rules and expectations in these contexts (re style, process, politics, etc.). I had published some poetry and creative writing in places like Broadside, Canadian Women’s Studies and local women’s newsletters. These five writing projects opened up a whole new world of possibility and self-empowerment for me.

The first book emerged in response to writing-for-healing circles that I was interested in attending/ learning to co-facilitate in my private practice as a therapist. Women were seeing me for a variety of issues. I was on the personal trajectory of expanding my creative writing skills. In 1998 a variety of practices/ activities/ people just seemed to fall into place. I’d come across the workbooks and writings of people like Cameron (1992, 1996); Ballenger and Lane (1996); Ealy (1995); Felman and Dori (1992); Fox (1995); Gere Lewis (1993); hooks (1994a, 1994b); McNiff (1992). Deena Metzger’s (1992) Writing for your Life: A Guide and Companion to the Inner Worlds had influenced me significantly. Their collective suggestions about finding our creative voice had a profound impact upon me. Many of these resources I regularly lent out to clients/ used in our work together.

Their influence was shaping many dimensions of my life. Journaling became significant. For example, Cameron (1992) quoting Shakti Gawain “The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf” (p.63) devotes a whole chapter to using journaling and creative writing for recovering our sense of power. Poetry and prose can feel like very risky ways to express ourselves because our vulnerabilities and our own lives are displayed (versus academic writing where the expectation usually is that we will write about someone else and their ‘researched’ problems or concerns). The five books that have emerged from ‘subaltern’ voices display or authenticity and our contradictions. We are ‘innocents’ evolving.

Cameron encourages that we find circles of supporters and validators for our re-emerging creative child. Cameron’s influence led me to hire a writing coach. For a time this writing coach was seeing me once a week; an ‘editor’ was giving me creative advice; and I was beginning to spend a lot of time with amateur authors. During about a one-year period a variety of three-hour writing circles were initiated by me. They were facilitated in the office space of my clinical social work private practice. Initially, I just observed and participated. Eventually, I was co-facilitating. The initial plan for the writing-for-healing circles was that participants would collectively pay the facilitator for her time (i.e. if each of us gave $20 for the evening then the wages of a semi-professional creative writing instructor could be paid). This did not materialize because many of the women attending did not have this kind of money; wouldn’t attend if they had to pay that amount; forgot to pay; etc.

A pattern of ‘regulars’ at the circle began to form. A circle of women had regularly been attending and in some subtle ways we were almost all co-facilitating some aspects of the process. Each session had a theme: ‘body image’; ‘anger’; ‘depression’; etc. We were increasingly amazed with each other’s creative and writing talents; our distinctiveness; and simultaneously we were amazed with the universality of some aspects of our stories. We began playfully chatting about ‘some day’ putting these pieces of writing we were producing into a book. Then some how one day we said ‘why not now?’. And then we actually did do that; we produced Battle Chants.

The women in this first circle included two who had been involved semi-professionally in desk top publishing and the production of texts. Other women had other talents they brought to the ad hoc project; their ability to edit; their design skills; their stamina and ability to keep us on focus; their computer skills; etc. This was all quite informal, hectic, confusing, delightful, and somehow it all just manifested in this wonderful experience and this wonderful (to our eyes) product. We were unbelievably encouraged in that the community welcomed us to do readings; we were invited to speak at a woman’s center and at Chapters, etc. Our creativity was embraced and celebrated by many gazes and voices. All of this came together rapidly too so our enchantment and enthusiasm with the process and with each other wasn’t lost. The project manifested quickly and productively.

The glitches in the experience manifested after the book was published. Then, we had complications within the group in regards to how best to promote and distribute it. Should we all do readings all of the time? Should the women who did the most readings get the most returns from the sales? Should we have a joint bank account and do monthly statements and have meetings? All of this marketing and money-management was unfun. All of this was quite disenchanting compared to the original circle’s intentions. My present assessment of this phase is that a group is better advised to keep every thing as simple as humanly possible. All production costs should be equally divided. All writers should have approximately the same number of pages of text that they contribute to the book. All the writers should simply get their share of the copies of the book when it is finished being printed. No joint accounts. No joint activities unless they are planned in off the cuff ways among individual participants - and renegotiated with each incident or sharing. Most women’s lives are too contingent and complicated already. Maintaining the elements of play, adventure, and spontaneity is more conducive to comfort for all. Battle Chants taught me about the enormous potentials inside most women; and it taught me about practicalities and process in regards to the financial and organizational process of producing a book. The subsequent projects affirmed these lessons.



page 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7