Hold It All

Category: Writing to Wake up

The Firstfruits by Sarah Hartmann Burkemper

Sarah shared this writing in our Facing the Future class this autumn, and I am happy to share it with you!

I generally am not a mindful eater. I eat breakfast standing at the counter, lunch at my desk at work, and dinner slumped on the couch with a bowl on my lap. I forget, neglect, and fail to pause before I eat to offer gratitude for my food and for those who worked to produce it.

But there is one time a year when my gratitude cannot be contained and manifests itself in a ritual celebrating the arrival of a perfect food. That is on the day of the first cucumber.

I harvest the first cucumber around the third week of June. The first one is never truly large enough to pick, but I have no patience to wait any longer. It is usually only one inch in diameter and three to four inches long, barely large enough to slice.

I pick the first cucumber, bring it into the house, and wait until everyone in the family is present. I slice it into pieces and place it on the glass plate reserved for this occasion. I carry the plate around the house, and offer slices to Liz, Ben, and Joe (and Anne, though she refuses). As I distribute the slices, I ask everyone, “Isn’t this incredible? Can you believe the flavor? Have you ever had a better cucumber?” I badger them until I get what I think is the appropriate response.

The first cucumber is incredible! It is perfectly crunchy. It has a subtle sweetness and a pure cucumber flavor. There is no toughness to the seeds. In fact, they are not even fully formed seeds yet, but merely little pockets of moisture embedded in the center. The color of the flesh is a light but rich green with no translucence. The cucumber needs no dressing, as any added flavor would diminish its essence. Read the rest of this entry »

“Nobody’s Going To Do It for You”

Anne Waldman and Laura Wright, editors, Beats at Naropa: An Anthology
Coffee House Press, 2009

I read Beats at Naropa exactly nine years ago, 2009. In my notes on the dialogues, essays, and interviews are the seeds of what became projects like Arab Writers in Translation Reading Group, People’s History of the United States Monthly Discussion, St. Louis Mindfulness Sangha, Share the Wealth, Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, Writing to Wake Up courses on Demun Avenue and Spring Avenue, Brothers Karamazov Sessions at Sasha’s, Monthly Via Creativa Colloquium with Cami Kasmerchak for a Year, Chinese Poets in Translation Reading Group, approximately 700 cafe rendezvous, and 450-page draft of Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris, to name several.

It pleases me to recognize my deep indebtedness to the writers, poets, and artists in this volume who nurtured my vision. Accordingly, I savor provocations like the following—

Diane di Prima: There’s also: once you finish writing something it doesn’t belong to you. It has its own life and needs to go where it wants to go.

Anne Waldman: The scope and influence of the New American Poetry and its attendant offshoots and cross-fertilizations with other writers of the expansive poetry world is an Indra’s Net of inter-relatedness and is thus difficult to codify. Suffice it to say, however, that some of the writers most associated with the Beat movement were already very cognizant of and extremely well-read in Buddhist philosophy and psychology.

Diane di Prima: A lot of this is hit-and-run. It doesn’t have to be a life work. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing to Wake Up: A Course in Creativity and Community

Think about it: Even with all our sophisticated technologies and modes of communication, who feels as though there is enough time? And yet, we need time, as community activist Grace Lee Boggs has said, to “grow our souls”: Time to think, to explore, to share, to listen. We need time to be in touch with ourselves, each other, the world.

In this eight-week course, we will take time and use writing as a practice to wake up more fully. We will experience solitude, as writing is an individual journey. And we will extend solidarity, as writing can be a bridge to others.

Our basic text is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. We’ll practice separating the “creator” from the “editor” (critic) by doing non-stop, timed writings in notebooks or laptops. We will explore topics such as memory, dreams, work, obsessions, wonder, play, politics, friends, letting go, and much more. Each class will allow time for multiple writing sessions, paired exchange and large group sharing of writing, report backs on assignments, and quiet meditation. I will also offer provocations from poets, sages, artists, and prophets. Read the rest of this entry »

White Gods by Zenique Gardner

Zenique was in the summer Writing Rejuvenation class, and she contributed to our rejuvenation in several ways.  She gave me permission to share the following.


I was in Africa for less than a week when I encountered their Jesus: made up of carved marble or sculpted plaster painted peach with darker tresses that graced his robed shoulders.  If he weren’t statuesque, he was seated at a table with his attendants, bread and wine and enclosed within a frame and hanging on a wall in a cathedral vestibule.  His hands were always open and reaching out—the invitation, I suppose.  There were always Bibles readily available too—in English, Luganda, Kinyarwanda, French, and Lusoga—sometimes more accessible than fresh meats or vegetables, rice or beans for a meager meal.   The Holy Book, usually emblazoned with a foreign version of the title in gold on the front of the black cardboard-like cover.  The cover—black like the sun-kissed African peoples, black like their sins—this cover was the singular thing from the imported religion that resembled them. 

Day three in Rwanda.

The intern was in the middle of a discussion about cultural encounters when she asked Marianne to share her story.  Already quite popular, Marianne, a pretty blonde that was somewhere between surfer and Barbie, had a big laugh and a larger than life American way about her.  I was sitting in the back of the room nibbling at a new fruit that I discovered— a mix between a tomato and a passion fruit with a sweet-tart flavor once bitten into—when the golden girl started talking in her high-pitched voice. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing to Wake Up


Natalie Goldberg: I also place on the altar a photo of Allen Ginsberg in a yellow wood frame, sitting in a white shirt, cross-legged, his face captured in an uncanny smile. He is our muse of raw honesty for the week. An essay of his written in 1974 is titled “Polishing the Mind” and connects the study of the mind with poetry. When I read it, I knew I had found my wiring path. I wanted to document and structure a practice for others to follow, a way through writing to wake up. I consider Allen Ginsberg the grandfather of the writing practice lineage.


Allen Ginsberg: The only things we “know” are what we think in the moments we give ourselves away, “tip our mitt.” 233 Read the rest of this entry »

Walking Together without Fear: Reading and Writing with Alice Walker

Author of many books, most famously The Color Purple, Alice Walker is one of the most renowned  writers who came of age during the 1960s in this country. Now in her early seventies, she continues to produce creative work and interfere with injustice as a global citizen in people’s movements.

In this summer course we will read and write responses to  many of Walker’s recent poems (as well as to our own experiences) and discuss her short essays on her activist life.

We’ll meet from 6:30 to 8:15 on Thursdays  July 9, 16, 23, 30, August 6, 13, 20, and 27. We are fortunate to gather at Jerry and Marty King’s home (third floor 830 DeMun Avenue, Clayton 63105).

Read the rest of this entry »


Working on my obsession
In the kitchen on Spring Avenue
Alongside Sarah Bollinger and Lindsay Sihilling
All of us fingering our laptops with brio
–Go for broke!

Writing Aspirations for the Next Few (Many?) Months (Years?)

To encourage Ann in her possibly imminent publishing pursuits

To begin in earnest sequel to Dear Layla—I just bought three black Moleskines, first objective, fill them with daydreams of what’s going on with Carla Nguyen

To show up wherever Fatima’s going to be

To send Brittany postcards when she’s at the beach

To begin a serene decade-length project called, The Teachings Are Infinite Read the rest of this entry »

364 Other Days

People think they are making a big contribution by voting
But don’t forget—a year has 364 other days:

To come together face to face
To get to know each other

To name the problems that afflict us and others
To share stories of struggle and shining Read the rest of this entry »


Extraordinary buzz of life and brilliance at tonight’s Writing to Wake Up! Thanks to Josh Aranda, Libby Dunn, Tony Albrecht, Lindsey Weston, Jenn Reyes Lay, Cami Kasmerchak, Justin Lorenz, Emily Camp, Ann Heyse, Brittany Accardi, Lindsay Sihilling, Nebu Kolenchery,  Laura Aranda, Priya Sirohi, Kelley Schwartz, and Fatima Rhodes.