Chingonas, poetry, poets, Uncategorized

Braiding Words into Poems

It was at the AROHO retreat when words began to jam the inside of my head, seeking the way out, like never before. I wrote my first poem while I was in a workshop with Jillian Lauren , who taught “Writing on the Edge.” Two days later I had two more poems. I thought in verse without knowing or trying.

Maybe it was the gorgeous landscape around me, coupled with the synergy of wise wonderful women (bien Chingonas) attending the retreat, or maybe it was the spirit of Ghost Ranch and the motto of New Mexico: “The Land of Enchantment.”

Since returning from New Mexico, five weeks ago, six more poems have leaked out of me. The one below came to me in the middle of the night, a few days after I returned from AROHO. My critique group, Women Who Write, helped me form the poem into something a little more coherent.

The original name of the poem was Braids, but today, in honor of National Poetry Day and NPMonth, I retitled it to post on a blog I happened to stumble upon, Poetic Bloomings. The task was to write a poem about composing a poem. The prize is a book of poetry (and you know I love free books).


Braid words
to reach across
expanse of experiences

Pull together strands
of pain, joy
sadness, hope,
wisdom, love
bit by bit, strand by strand

Form strength
tighter, stronger, thicker
criss cross
hand over hand
fingers nimble
fast, slow

Pull together
thick cords
ropes of strength

Sycamore trees, Oxnard, CA
Sycamore trees, Oxnard, CA

On my walk yesterday,  I came upon a Sycamore, usually the only trees in the whole neighbor and my coastal city, which give evidence that autumn has arrived. Among the palm trees and drought resistant plants, the Sycamores stand out in their demise, brilliantly. A red leaf dropped in front of me and ‘walked’ like a starfish across my path.

Starfish on Asphalt
Starfish on Asphalt

Starfish on Asphalt

From the depths of an ocean

coastal winds blew you near

a starfish on asphalt

for me to see.


moving towards others,

huddling in the cold,

dying in color.

A fish out of water

to return

next spring

huddled leaves
huddled leaves
AROHO, poetry, Writing, writing retreats

Writing on the Edge

writing in diary

Five days after returning from the AROHO writers retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico I still have many memories swirling through my mind . One such memory is particularly embedded in my skin. I have 12 itchy scabs from 12 mosquito bites despite the mosquito repellant and itch cream.

On the second day of my arrival I began my small group, Writing on the Edge, taught by Jillian Lauren. She is the author of Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and Pretty Girls . Jillian proved to be an excellent guide and inspiration.

The blurb for her course caught my eye and interest:

Drugs, sex, violence…are you bored yet? Why is some of the juiciest material so hard to translate onto the page in a dynamic and engaging way?

I don’t know if Jillian chose the location for her class, but it was near the edge of a small mesa. I had to hike up a dusty switchback to get to class under 90 degree weather.

Road to Class: Writing on the Edge
Road to Class: Writing on the Edge

First day in group, the seven of us were asked if we knew yoga. All of them, sans moi, knew the poses. I lumbered onto the map, stretching and opening my ‘creativity’ as Jillian instructed. Plank, Downward Dog, and Pigeon stretched me beyond where I had gone before. I do have to say that the stretches, deep breaths and silence did make me feel better.

Conflict and tension is necessary in most stories, especially to keep the reader interested. But how do we do that? Jillian explained that the act itself may not be dramatic, but to

…look at the journey, the motivation, the fear of the character

The result of those thoughts is what has to be created and put down on paper. A way to do this is with a free write:

Warm Up: After you have stretched and opened up your creativity, pull out a pad of paper before your “real” writing begins. Think about what you’d like your next “edgy” scene to convey. You can use a timer to write for 10 minutes. Write without your pen lifting from the page, no cross outs, no self editing. You may find the words flowing right away on the page.

Jillian had us sit with our journals and gave us a writing prompt. We had to write for five minutes, again keeping the pen on the paper.

The prompt: How are you feeling right at this moment? Here is my response.

A very intelligent mosquito found its way to a patch of unsprayed flesh beneath my bra strap. He bit into my warm skin and drank like a thirsty elephant, leaving me with a swollen itchy blob of mounded skin. It is a testament to his prowess. Cortaid is too weak for the wound.

 Scratching has released oozing fluid beneath the tender hill of skin. His creativity is to be applauded. He bit a spot that is difficult to reach. The itch will soon go away, leaving a brown scab on a red sensitive bump, a reminder of my time at the AROHO retreat. 

Some memories are made from stuff like this, the sudden bite, the quick stab, the stealthy adventure in the dark. A surprise visit from someone or something you tried to avoid, someone you tried to keep safe from. The best laid plans sometimes need to be disrupted reminding us we can’t stay insulated from pain or danger.

Two days later we talked about our “shadow self. ” In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This was the ‘edgy’ writing we came to learn.

We had a ten minute exercise to write to our shadow, then we burned the paper, mixed it with sand, straw, and water. Some of the shadows were lumpy blobs of clay, others smaller, holey, glittery, big and small. We released the dried clay into the Abiquiu Lake a couple of days later, bidding them goodbye.

The next day we were given another prompt. We could choose one of these: Fear means… Shame means…Risk means… I chose to write about shame.

Shame means…

Shame means inward responses to outward looks. Whispering or shouting responses that no one hears.

Shame turns inside, tight and tiny, steals whatever is near to cover up, look like something else. Only you see the shadows lurk, grow huge, come nearer.

Shame hunches shoulders, shuffles feet, has you fascinated with your hair or a piece of candy. 

Shame has you move into corners, watch the world go by, carry a purse full of secrets, and lies. A wardrobe of masks and decorations.

Shame has you sweat inside when you see those particular set of eyes, a facial gesture, a mannerism. 

Shame makes others use tools, hammers and chisels, to get to the real you. Tools very few people seem to carry or want to use.

Shame makes you fight, first with yourself, then with others.

If you’re lucky you fight the real reasons for that shame. You use the chisel to cut off the crap, move deeper, make something uniquely beautiful from a slab of stone. *

The yoga exercises, discussion on the “shadow self,” and prompts were valuable. You never know what you will find when you delve in deep. Thanks Jillian.

*The narratives are copyrighted and the property of Mona AlvaradoFrazier. Thank you for sharing and linking back.