The Millay Colony for the Arts

On Betsy Fagin’s Workshop: Guest Post by Carol Mirakove

We love that our workshops draw such amazing artists, writers, and thinkers into the Millay orbit – both the workshop leaders and the people who attend. The conversation and contemplation that was generated at Betsy Fagin’s workshop this season was so rich we wanted to offer a small glimpse into the room. We asked attendee, beloved and gifted poet Carol Mirakove, for some thoughts and notes on the afternoon. Reader, we could not have been more inspired by what she offered us. Read on for insight, resources, poetry, and beauty and joy….

After Disentangling, A Workshop with Betsy Fagin

Looking for generative energy in these dark times I participated in a Millay Colony workshop from their Sanctuary Series, “DISENTANGLING– Disaster Has Come from the Outside. Don’t Give Up Hope.,” led by Betsy Fagin, a poet I have long admired. We gathered on an afternoon in June at The Neighborhood Preservation Center in the East Village, a tranquil space that has historically welcomed poets.

The workshop opened with our developing a working agreement — tenets we put forward to establish a mutually safe space — including confidentiality of what we were to share. We then voiced what we are resisting, and explored those threads in our exchanges throughout the workshop. We engaged three primary activities: guided meditation, free writing, and discussion.

On the workshop title, “disentangling,” Betsy offered prompts to “free yourself from disorder,” and to “act directly.”

Meditation

I had not meditated in years and found it restorative and unearthing in the workshop context. I pledged to continue the practice on my own following the afternoon (currently a work in progress).

Betsy brought several texts to the group, among them Audre Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival” and an excerpt from Marshall B. Rosenberg’s Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, a publication from the Center for Nonviolent Communication:

We have what I call a gang dominating us rather than an individual. In many of our social-change efforts, we are seemingly concerned with the actions of groups of people rather than individual behaviors. In my way of thinking, gangs are groups that behave in ways we don’t like. Some gangs call themselves street gangs. They’re not the ones that scare me the most.

Other gangs call themselves multinational corporations. Some gangs call themselves governments. (p. 107)

The Disentangling workshop might have been “creating a different gang.” How about groups that behave in ways we do like? How about naming ourselves A Disentangling Gang? Convening to practice peace, mindfulness, and creativity can be a radical act.

Free Write

heart base beats against
misogynist bind
filtered through intestines
the city thickens the breath
even when not actively poisoned
yet I can’t live apart from a swarm
making living
I need proof we are still doing this
can I say we here
as a statement of observed fact
as opposed to common experience
dropped like an army grade
of cracked safety, psyche
returned & untreated

I often don’t know exactly what I mean coming out of a free writing space, as is the case here with “untreated.” Maybe I mean living with unsupported trauma. Maybe as in wood or medication? That I do not like. I think it’s about treats, how nice it is to give and receive tiny gifts, joy, or surprise. I leave untreated undeleted. Let’s treat each other.

Discussion

In departing the workshop, I made a note to seek out two resources that were raised to help with perseverance, Michelle Alexander’s discussion of resistance (“Resistance is inherently defensive. We are part of a bold and beautiful revolutionary movement that aims to rebirth this country.”) and Rebecca Solnit’s Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option. I find both to be instructive and reinforcing.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from Betsy Fagin’s poem “never not broken” in her profound and precisely life-affirming book, All Is Not Yet Lost:

we don’t normally do
solution. found any
being a light.

arise! dream the occasion.
while the city sleeps
the rest of you, inked, will die.

awaken what years ago
was called love.
we should have each other.

imagination + daring action.
we slip transformed
broken into beauty and joy.

— Carol Mirakove

Facing L to R: Vi Khi Nao, Carol Mirakove, Elizabeth Onusko