EDGEWISE: The Powder Keg Sessions: Creating a new women’s lexicon in the Berkshires

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By Thursday, Feb 19 Life In the Berkshires  2 Comments

Something happens in a quiet room, where tea cups steam and the snarl of daily life subsides for a while. Stories take root, and themes are noticed and sense begins to emerge, in the swirling air above the rose tea. As Mary Gaitskill puts it, we write “to give form to the things we sense but cannot see.”

Nearly every week at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic and once a month in a dining room in Great Barrington, for more than 100 hours over the past few years, two groups of Berkshire women have faced down the blank page and tethered themselves to the rigors of a daily writing practice. They have taken time from careers, children, housework and other obligations for this radical act. I have led the Powder Keg Sessions for three years. We have met at the Ramsdell Library 37 times. The dedication of the writers who gather to write tell me that together, we are on to something.

A Powder Keg session in the Ramsdell Library last May.

A Powder Keg Session in the Ramsdell Library last May.

I began these Sessions as a way of keeping the momentum going after an annual event I produce for the March Berkshire Festival of Women Writers entitled Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. People in the audience wondered, “How can I begin to write like that?” Personal essay, written from inside a woman’s experience, is rare in the grand scheme of things.

Since the rise of the feminist movement, women’s voices have become stronger. The words and work of writers and artists have begun to illuminate what has long been silenced. Reflections on the complicated lives women lead, from inside motherhood or lives without children, inside the choices we make daily to focus on caring for families, businesses and the world produce unique creations. We are creating a lexicon for generations to come.

On Sunday, February 22, the Powder Keg Sessions writers will ignite No. Six Depot with their voices and new work. Readers include: Karen Arp-Sandel, Patrice Collé, Maggie Dillon-Katz, Safara Fisher, Teresa Gentile, Linda Jackson, Susan Lafferty-Laidlaw, Carol LeBlanc, Deirdre McKenna, Erika Nelson, Tara Rahkola, Holly Wren Spaulding and Sandra Walker.

Enhancing this devotion to pen and page is the exhibit opening of What a Daily Writing Practice Looks Like: The Hand-Bound Journals of Writer, Maker, Mother Suzi Banks Baum. In homage to the time-honored tradition of writers in cafes, my hand-bound Coptic Stitch books filled with hand-painted papers, found and vintage papers, collages, and small paintings and drawings will be on display in No. Six Depot’s Café gallery until March 31.

I have kept a journal since my sophomore-year high school English teacher propelled me to incubate and marinate creative ideas in a notebook. I have studied with master book artists Ulrike Grannis, Marie-Claude Giroux, and Karen Arp-Sandel of IS-183, Paulus Berensohn of Penland School of Crafts, and Joy Seidler of Holliston, Mass. These journals are critical to my daily writing practice. The books will be open, so viewers can witness how appetite and curiosity draw diverse resources onto single pages – and eventually, into the world.

The author's journal.

The author’s journal.

Writers have to start somewhere. The blank page daunts even the most hearty. Keeping a daily journal is one way we collect thoughts, trace days and compile random inspirations. Named “commonplace books” in the Renaissance, these freely inscribed journals become central to the maker’s creative process. I am part of an artistic community who consider their daily writing practice as entering the “soul’s kitchen.” 

As Adrienne Rich says, “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” I am devoted to women’s stories, my own and those of the people who come to my workshops. Together, we write to recognize the value in the most mundane and the most beautiful moments of life. These moments, exploring ordinary human relationships to the world, to nature and to one another, may not be Super Bowl events, but they are eminently fascinating, and worth expressing.

I hope you will join us for the reading of the Powder Keg Sessions writers at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge at 2 PM on February 22. The event, part of the Spring Reading Series at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, is free. Please come thirsty for great coffee that you can purchase in the cafe then settle in for an afternoon of women’s stories. The exhibit of my journals runs for the entire month of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and celebrates the practice of daily writing, especially in cafes and coffee houses like No. Six Depot.

Then, if you’re hungry for more women’s writing, come to Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others on March 7 at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, Mass. Nine women writers from across Berkshire County will be featured, along with a short movie titled “The Permission Slip” and new work on display by Berkshire women artists. A $10 donation at the door helps support this production and the Festival and bedtime snacks will be served.


Suzi Banks Baum author photoSuzi Banks Baum creates community wherever she goes. She’s an actress, writer, fiber and mixed media collage artist, teacher and collaborator. She’s also the editor and publisher of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice; creator of “Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others” for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers; and collaborator with FeMail, a snail-mail art exchange in its seventh year. She lives with her husband and two teenagers in the Berkshires and runs an active blog series about motherhood and creativity at www.laundrylinedivine.com, where she also posts weekly about seeing and celebrating the sacred in daily life. She welcomes queries about any of her projects; email her at Suzi@LaundryLineDivine.com.

Author photoThe weekly EDGE WISE column is curated by Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D., associate professor of comparative literature, gender studies and media studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and the Founding Director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Women writers interested in publishing in EDGE WISE can find writers’ guidelines on the Festival website, or may submit queries or columns to Jennifer@berkshirewomenwriters.org.








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