THE GOOD WORKS of poets and their allies …


When I started The Bardo Group, now The Bardo Group Beguines (publishers of The BeZine), back in February 2011, I had in mind the human union in sacred space (common ground) as it  is expressed through the arts and the sharing of work that is representative of universal human values however differently they might bloom in our varied religions and cultures. I feel that our art and our Internet-facilitated social connection offer a means to see one another in our simple humanity, as brothers and sisters, and not as “other.” They also offer a means to get some other good things done.

I have written about:

  • English poet and musician, John Anstie and the Grass Roots Poetry Group, that was founded through Twitter friendships and that published a collection to raise funds for UNICEF;
  • Dorothy Yamamoto, a poet and editor who brought a group of A-list English poets together to create a collecton, Hands & Wings, to raise funds for the rehabilitation and support of torture victims seeking protection in the U.K.; and,
  • Silva Merjanian who – along with her publisher – has donated procedes from the sale of her collection Rumor to fund assistance for Armenians escaping violence in Syria. The last time I spoke with her $5,000 was raised.

You can read about these three efforts HERE.


Today I’d like to bring three more initiatives to your attention:

  • Evelyn Augusto’s “Guns Don’t Save Live, Poets Do,Dueling with Words to Stop Gun Violence;”
  • Jazz singer Candice Hawley’s “Let’s Talk About it,” a free and open discussion of Anxiety and Depression; and,
  • Rev. Terri Stewart’s Peacemaking Circles for Seattle’s incarcerated youth. Terri is the founder of The BeZine’s sister site, Beguine Again, and a member of the zine’s core team.

“537 children under the age of eleven have been killed or injured by gun violence in the United States this year alone, according to Gun Violence.org.” Evelyn Augusto

Evelyn asked me to share information on her project  (I’ve included some info in a few Sunday Announcement posts). 

  • She is available to come and speak at high schools and to youth groups;
  •  She’s encouraging more people to write and post poems on gun violence;
  • She will be presenting at Rise and Resist for Sensible Gun Safety on November 2 in Oneonta, New York;
  • She has a collection of poems coming out shortly;
  • Her Facebook page – Dueling with Words to Stop Gun Violence –  is HERE.
  • To arrange a speaking engagement connect with Evelyn at poetsoul@gmail.com

Your Gun Is Talking

Excuse me, I can’t hear you–
your gun is speaking
louder than you do

and yes, you scare me,
it isn’t how it ought to be–
we are more like each
other than you can see

I can’t hear you
I can’t hear you
your gun is speaking louder
than you do

and yes, it saddens me
because all I see–
is a woman who doesn’t know
who she could be

I can’t hear you
I can’t hear you
your gun is
speaking louder
speaking louder.

There’s no more you.

© Written by Evelyn Augusto for Guns Don’t Save People, Poets Do. October 21, 2017


courtesy of openclipart.org

LET’S TALK ABOUT IT: Special for our Silicon Valley/South Bay friends, a workshop hosted by Jazz Singer Candice Hawley as part of her church’s Good Works Project: Let’s Talk About It is a free and open discussion of Anxiety and Depression, Chemical Imbalances and overall Mental Health. Candice says, “you’ll hear stories of lived experience, see a presentation by Tanya Pekker, MFT, on anxiety and depression, engage in a Q&A with all participants and more . . .”  Saturday, October 28, 10 am – Noon, Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula, Moldaw-Zaffaroni Clubhouse, 2031 Pulgas Avenue, East Palo Alto, CA. Register HERE.


courtesy of Terri Stewart

Note: Among other things, Terri Stewart and colleagues are holding peacemaking circles with youth who have been picked up on possession of firearms.  Recently the success of these circles was acknowledged by the Seattle Times HERE.

The July issue of The BeZine covered prison culture and restorative justice. Learn about peacemaking circles in this excerpt from July’s The BeZine. 

JUSTICE IN NEW-OLD WAY

by

Terri Stewart

Rev. Terri Stewart, Associate Pastor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church

Today, we sat in the King County Youth Service Center lobby that had been turned into a courtroom for the sentencing of one of the youth we have been working with. I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team (PCT). We apply the principles of Peacemaking Circles, an ancient process taught to us by the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation people to modern court cases. A new-old way.

Today, we heard from the judge, the prosecution, the defense, the PCT…and then the respondent (person who did harm) spoke. And then the victim’s mother spoke.

We were all blubbering and sniffling by the end of it. But not because it was hurtful. The tears were because of the witness of transformation and hope. To see a genuinely healed person extend their hand to honor the victim. To see the victim’s family stand up and say, “Do more of this.”

There are some flaws to work out but that is because we are human. And this process is all about becoming more completely human.

In this particular case, the respondent had committed felony harassment. This charge on a juvenile record could irrevocably alter his future. It would limit his housing, loans, educational opportunities and more. I don’t know if we really understand what we do to juveniles when we hang felonies around their neck during a time in their life when their brain is not fully formed. But I digress.

I remember the mother of the victim looking at the respondent and saying (paraphrase), “It is so good to see you this way. Before, all I had as an image of you was the threat on social media where you had a gun and were threatening my boy’s life. You were scary. Now you are human.”

During the Peacemaking Circle process that took about 8 months, we discovered how similar the respondent and victim were. They were both from homes going through divorce. They both loved photography. They were both kids being sunk by the social systems around them. One responded by acting out. The other by withdrawing. In this case, working towards healing the family systems healed the crime. It helped everyone remember that they were human. And that we are all human.

I share below with you the recommendation from the PCT and the joy in a complete dismissal of charges against the respondent. (I’ve removed the names of the young people involved).

Can I get an Amen?!

Summary and Final Recommendations for Referral #4

July 7, 2017

Good afternoon, my name is Safia Ahmed and I am a member of the King County Peacemaking Coordinating Team. I have the honor of speaking on behalf of the team to share the work that has been done in this case and our recommendations for sentencing.

To begin, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to honor and thank the victim and his family who gave their courageous support for this case to be referred. Their support and willingness to participate was instrumental in this restorative process to promote healing and partnership between King County, community based organizations, faith based communities, and the youth, families and communities of King County.

We received a referral for the respondent’s case on October 11, 2016 from Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jimmy Hung. A home visit was conducted with the respondent and his family to determine the suitability of this referral for the Peacemaking Circle process. In addition, a home visit was also conducted with the victim and the victim’s family to share an overview of the Peacemaking Circle process, answer any questions and gain an understanding of what level of participation in the Peacemaking Circle process they may want to have.

After completing both home visits, the Peacemaking Coordinating Team accepted the case. The following summarizes the work done since accepting the case in December 2016 until July 1, 2017.

Five Healing Circles with the respondent, the respondent’s family and community members who wanted to show support. Each circle was on average 3 to 4 hours long. These circles were to promote healing, peace and reconciliation and as preparation to meet with the victim and the victim’s family since they indicated their openness to actively participating in the Peacemaking Circle process.
The respondent and his parents participated in an all-day community circle with King County Executive Dow Constantine and other King County leaders on March 11, 2017.
The respondent’s mother attended a 3-Day Introductory Peacemaking Circle Training from April 26-28, 2017
One Pre-sentencing Circle and One Sentencing Circle that included the presence of the victim’s mother along with criminal justice stakeholders; friends and family from both parties.
Approximately 8 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the victim’s mother and her family, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress with the Peacemaking Circle process.
Ongoing check-ins with the Criminal Justice stakeholders involved in the respondent’s case, keeping them apprised of the respondent’s progress.
One home visit and approximately 20-25 hours of check-ins via phone and text with the respondent over the course of 7 months.
The following outline was agreed upon in the Sentencing Circle as a conclusion to this case:

Reimbursement to the victim’s family for 8 of the 12 counseling sessions the victim partook in for self-care and healing work. Each session cost $120 for a total of $960
2 sessions paid by the respondent
3 sessions paid by the respondent’s family
3 sessions paid from funds provided by the community and the Peacemaking Coordinating Team
The respondent’s father kindly agreed to show support to the victim and the victim’s mother by offering to pay for a trip as an opportunity to spend time with each other to rebuild their relationship along with having a positive experience coming from the respondent and his family.
In addition the Peacemaking Coordinating Team also recommends the following:

6 months of volunteer work with the Peacemaking Coordinating Team as a way to give back and pay it forward that includes:
Attending the Peacemaking Coordinating Team meetings once a month
Participate and help lead a monthly Young Men’s Circle in support of other young people who are going through similar situations.
The respondent, with the support of his brothers and parents, has agreed to these recommendations as a way to heal the harm he has caused to the victim, the victim’s family and to the community at large.

The Peacemaking Coordinating Team would like to conclude our review and recommendations to this case by again expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the victim and the victim’s family who graciously permitted the respondent and his family to participate in the Peacemaking Circle process even while contending with the harm inflicted by the respondent’s actions. It is our belief that their generosity and commitment to restorative practices have given space for the healing process to begin for both families. We would also like to express our appreciation to the court, our criminal justice partners and the community for the continued support of our work.

Shalom and Amen,

Terri Stewart

Currently Terri is raising money for the King County Peacemaking Teams.  As I write this $1,555 of $2,000 has been raised. Details and to donate link HERE.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

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Compassionate Poetry Projects courtesy of The Grass Roots Poetry Group, White Rat Press, and Silva Merjanian


Not only do some poets use their work to raise the general consciousness but they often donate their work to help fund worthy efforts. Here are three collections that have been featured here before in greater depth. I believe you’ll appreciate  should you decide to read them.

A bit of research reveals there are many other such published collections or anthologies in process. As just two examples, I found one for asthma awareness and another to help support a local ambulance service.

If there’s a cause you’d like to support through poetry, rummage around the Internet or consider producing a collection or anthology yourself.  Not easy work, I know, but you might enjoy it and it would surely be rewarding.


John Anstie whose poem was featured yesterday is a member of The Grass Roots Poetry Group, a collaboration that created and published Petrichor Rising. The proceeds from the sale of this anthology go to UNICEF. The backstory is Petrichor Rising  and how the Twitterverse birthed friendships that in turn birthed a poetry collection. You’ll find links in that feature to purchase the book. John is also one of the earliest members of The BeZine team.


One day some time ago a few books arrived in my mailbox from Anne Stewart of  poetry p f and  Second Light Network of Women Poets Founder, Dilys Wood. Among the books was an anthology that deserved special attention: Hands & Wings, Poems for Freedom from Torture (White Rat Press, 2015).  For information to purchase contact: dorothy.yamamoto@whiteratpress.co.uk. Dorothy Yamamoto is a poet and the editor of this collection. The poems in it are freely shared by A-list poets. The proceeds from the sale of the collection go to help with the rehabilitation and support of torture victims seeking protection in the U.K.


When last I chatted with Silva Zanoyan Merjanian, she’d raised $682.70 for Mer Doon Inc. from the proceeds of Rumor (Cold Water Press, 2015). Mer Doon is an organization that houses orphaned eighteen-year-old girls aging out of care. This support gives the girls a chance to become financially independent and safe from human traffickers. So far the sales of Rumor have  generated over $5,000 for charities. Quite remarkable. If you buy the book directly from Silva’s site (as opposed to Amazon), all proceeds go to these charities. Rumor won the 2015 Best Book Award in the poetry category from the NABE. Three poems from the book were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  It is Silva’s second published collection.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (19): Silva Zanoyan Merjanian, Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time – from war-torn Lebanon to peace in California

Armenian/Lebanese American poet, Silva Zanoyan Merjanian

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian is an Armenian ethnic who was born in Lebanon. She escaped the civil war there and lived for a time in Geneva, ultimately settling to build a family life in California. Silva has two published collections. Most recently Rumor (Cold Water Press, 2015), which received the Best Book Award from NABE in the 2015. Three poems from Rumor were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Silva’s first collection is Uncoil a Night (CreateSpace, 2013).

73f533_9cc020b992f94d93a6acdd49383341f5

Falling

In rind of wishes sticky on lips
and sermons’ echo on facepsalms slipping
in envies squirted on spruce and cedar
whims twirling, spiraled, speckled
gossamer visions of friendships withered
in crevices of an upbeat mien
Your name hidden in prayer embers
I mend among buds of poems
flying on a trapeze
with no one at the other end

Rumor is a stunning tour de force of passionate, life-affirming poetry. Silva Merjanian evokes time and place with both grace and authority. Poetry is obviously a tool for her own healing and in that she brings us face to face with the human condition in all its complexity, beautiful and loving and devastating cruel, and she does so totally without pretension.

Mornings arriving
Me alone
Poems half written and done
Poems between toes and toast
‘Round Midnight and Monk
Nostalgia
Right reasons
Brave decisions
Thoughts that glow in the light
Just love
Always, in absence of rats and such
fresh sheets and I
between over and under

from Between the Sheets

She writes with immediacy of war:

bounce of gold crosses between breasts
colorful hijabs ’round others’ bare face
friendships seeded in borrowed sugar, borrowed time
she, unaware of borrowed wailers on their way
makes plans on a sunny balcony as she hangs
her blue jeans on a clothesline
moments before war drums ripple through crisp calm

from Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time

INTERVIEW

JAMIE:  Silva, Rumor is a remarkable collection with many poems that stay with one. It’s also quite generous of you to donate proceeds to the Syrian-Amenian Relief Fund (SARF). How are sales going and how is the fundraising?

SILVA: Thank you Jamie. I did not have an event or a formal fundraising with Rumor. The sales were a result of readings, speeches, word of mouth and some ads in newspapers and on Facebook. In July there will be an ad for it in Poets & Writers and it will also be included in five book fairs this summer.

My publisher, Dave Boles of Cold River Press, will release the e-book version soon. He is kind enough to donate all proceeds from the e-book also to the SARF. So with all these developments I expect a boost in sales.

JAMIE: When did you fall in love with poetry? When did you realize you are a poet?

SILVA: I am a late bloomer. I started writing in 2011 and my first book was released in 2013. Even though we grew up with the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats, etc.. and many Armenian poets, the thought of writing poetry hadn’t occurred to me. My education is in Business Administration not Fine Art. It was almost like catching the bug of poetry, very unexpected, once I started writing I couldn’t stop. I didn’t write to be published at first, it was just for the pleasure of it, later when I saw friends publishing books, the idea came to me to publish and make it count for something by donating the proceeds.

JAMIE: What are the reactions to your work that surprise you most?

SILVA: I didn’t expect the level of appreciation for my poetry that I received. Especially from those who themselves write and/or are well read in poetry. I have to thank the Irish first for this recognition. They have such talented poets and they recognized my potential first.

I also didn’t expect the difficulty to be accepted as a writer in the Armenian community. It was almost like they waited for me to be respected in the foreign circles before they’d acknowledge me, instead of reading my work and appreciating it themselves. I am disappointed in that respect.

JAMIE: Tell us something about your travels: How did your family arrive in Lebanon and why did they move from there. How did you end up in the U.S.?

SILVA:  My grandparents had to flee their homes twice, trying to survive the Armenian Genocide. If you are familiar with the book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Austrian -Bohemian writer Franz Werfel, first published in German in 1933, it is the story of my grandparents. The French helped the population of seven villages escape and relocate as refugees in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. So my grandparents did live under refugee tents for a whole year. Now the area is a buzzing town with three churches and schools and commerce.

I left Lebanon after experiencing eight years of the civil war*. Geneva was the city I healed from the war scars. Later I settled in California to raise my sons with my husband.

JAMIE: What do you think most Westerners don’t understand about the Middle East? What do you know and understand that you would like everyone to know?

SILVA: What most don’t understand about Lebanon, and to a degree parts of the Middle East, is that the vast majority of the people are just the nicest fun loving, peace loving, hard working families. They want for their children everything an American family wants. The number of innocent people who are collateral damage to the events in that part of the world is just heartbreaking.

JAMIE: I understand that your brother is a novelist. Does your family have a history of poets and writers?

SILVA: My brother has two volumes of poetry in Armenian. He is writing his third novel. I am not aware of anyone else in my family who has published books, except a volume of translations by my father.

JAMIE:  You have two well-received collections completed. Where to now?

SILVA:  That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. I think I will keep writing and hope a third book will be in the future for me.

* Lebanese Civil War – 1975-1990

© 2016, portrait, poems, bookcover art and responses to questions, Silva Merjanian, All rights reserved

ON THE 101st ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: Rape of Arevik by Silva Merjanian

 Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire - April, 1915. *From the collection of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives. Photographed by an anonymous German traveler.


Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire – April, 1915. From the collection of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives. Photographed by an anonymous German traveler.

There were moonlit nights and many moonless nights
sober and drunken in one grain of sand
in billions of grains there were filthy hands
mud and fingernails between sunburned thighs
this is not my skin with nerves inside out
not my breast squeezed into faint whimpers
like dying swallows caught in a dry mouth

soon I’ll be a memory in last verse of songs
someone meant to write on a summer night
flesh to sand and sand to a story to tell
they’ll mention tattoos* and how I was a slave
look look how many stars in one grain of sand
in a billion grains in a billion tears
screams tangled like strings through my broken ribs

you did not know me then
before much before they tore off my clothes
and the desert night shivered with their rage
you did not see how my hair flowed like silk
on soft pillows where teenage dreams were weaved
you did not know me dressed with flowers in my hair
and my fathers arm around my adolescent frame
you did not see the stars from our wide windows
above the vineyard and my feet bare on the fertile soil
in our apricot tree’s cool summer shade

I’m in the evening news – in a pile of bones
look at the skull at the very left
see the sparrow lodged between those clenched jaws
I’m in the evening news a hundred years late
in the grains of sand shifting restless with shame
in the billion stars in your sky tonight
in my mother’s voice singing kenatzir pallas*
in the moonlit nights and the moonless nights
on a dagger’s blade in the Deir ez-Zor sand

– Silva Merjanian

24 April 2016 is the 101th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when thousands of women were dragged in the desert, raped and tortured before killed.

  • the reference to tattoos … they used to tattoo the women according to who owned them.
  • Kenatzir pallas is a lullaby very popular with Armenians and means “go to sleep my child”

“Silva’s poetry rewards the reader with the gift of exquisite lacework, adorned with choice words and skillfully wrought poetic imagery, which allow you to get a glimpse of both the intoxicating sensuality of survival and the scalpel scars on the tender skin of life. Many-layered, it excels alike in depicting the sphere of personal experience and of traumatic social issues.” – Dr. Aprilia Zank. Lecturer for Creative Writing and Translation Theory Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany in a review of Silva’s collection Rumor. Three poems rom this collection are Pushcart nominees. The net profits including the publisher’s go to The Armenian-Syrian Relief Fund. About $5,000 dollars have been raised to date.

© 2016, poem and book cover design, Silva Merjanian, All rights reserved; featured here with the permission of the poet; Silva’s website is HERE.; the header photograph is a public domian photograph courtesy of Project Save.