Why We Write

Here’s a copy of the August 2010 VoiceCatcher newsletter, in which the article I wrote  about my cancer survivor’s writing group recently appeared: (reprinted with permission)

Check out the VoiceCatcher website for more information, or click on the link near the bottom of their newsletter to join their e-mailing list directly.  VoiceCatcher is a non-profit organization that supports the efforts of women writers in the Portland, Oregon area.

August: Title in Progress

VoiceCatcher Newsletter 2010



VoiceCatcher 4 contributor Sheila Deeth won Gypsy Shadow Publishing’s first contest. Her story “Refracted” will soon be available as an e-book. Meanwhile, Second Wind Publishing has released their mystery anthology, Murder in the Wind, containing Sheila’s short story “Jack.” She would like to thank VoiceCatcher for encouraging her to believe she could get published.

VoiceCatcher contributor Sage Cohen has three upcoming events to announce. She will be teaching the workshop Get a Day Job: Boost Your Income and Creativity as a Copywriter at the Willamette Writers Conference on Friday, August 6 from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. Learn more at: www.willamettewriters.com

Sage will also host the Poetry for the People student reading at Barnes & Noble Lloyd Center Wednesday, August 25, 7:00 p.m.  And she’s reading with Judith Barrington on Saturday, August 28 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hollywood Farmers Market (NE Hancock between 44th and 45th).

VoiceCatcher 2, 3, and 4 contributor Miriam Feder has finally begun to write dialogue for her new project. So far, it seems to be a play based on her mother’s life story. She’s so relieved because starting is the hardest part for her. http://miriamfeder.com

VoiceCatcher contributor Paula Friedman will teach Writing and Literature Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 pm, beginning August 23, through Hood River Adult Education in Hood River, OR. Cost: $50.00. Call (541) 386-2055 to register. Participants will use readings of short fiction by well-regarded authors with strong styles to explore ways to tell a story.

VoiceCatcher 4 Editor Jennifer Springsteen‘s short story “What We Worship” has been published in Marco Polo Quarterly. Check it out at marcopoloquarterly.com.

***We reserve this section to showcase our VoiceCatcher community. You may update the community by e-mailing Ginger Cox, gingerinvented@gmail.com

with the subject line: VC Newsletter: Community Announcements by the 20th or each month

Prompt Those


In Charles Wright’s “A Short History of My Life,” he imagines himself living multiple lives with rich cultural histories.  Read his and then write your own short piece (poem, fiction, even nonfiction) “A Short History of_____” that turns and surprises. The history might be your own or maybe a history of an object such as a favorite scarf or an unusual pet. Include a formal place name in your poem (Sears Tower in Chicago, Willamette River), a historical event or figure (One Hundred Years War, Jimmy Carter), and a moment in which the narrator directly addresses the reader (if a personal history) or the subject (if a pashmina or a tarantula). Have fun.

*Darlene Pagán is a VoiceCatcher 4 and VoiceCatcher Newsletter contributor.

Giving Thanks

To VoiceCatcher contributor Tasha Harmon for her invaluable guidance preparing our 501(c)3 documents.  A lawyer’s fine-tuning will ready us to send this application for tax-exempt status to the IRS in August.

To VoiceCatcher contributor and loyal supporter Paulann Petersen for enriching the lives of fourteen participants during her July 10 workshop at the 100th Monkey Studio. Oregon’s newest Poet Laureate generously contributed her time to inspire the group with her finely crafted springboards and affirming teaching methods.  In addition, she raised $900 for VoiceCatcher’s scholarship fund. We are honored to count Paulann among our most cherished friends.

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Why We Write
By Cara Holman

As I drove up the hill to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) that snowy day in January of 2007, I had two concerns on my mind: whether I had just made a huge mistake signing up for a newly formed writing group for women cancer survivors, and how I was going to get back down the hill if the snow didn’t let up. It turned out I needn’t have worried on either score.  I don’t know exactly what I’d been looking for–a support group, or a place where I could explore my long dormant writing aspirations–but when I easily navigated back down the snowy hill two hours later, I realized I’d found both.

The group consisted of eight cancer survivors and a facilitator, SuEllen Pommier, a cancer researcher trained in the Amherst Writers & Artists methodology. Since my diagnosis three months earlier, I’d become used to being defined in terms of my cancer–type, stage, grade, and prognosis. When we introduced ourselves, however, there was no mention of our cancers, or even other “relevant” background information such as marital status, children, or occupations. We were simply what we brought with us into the room that day, shedding our external labels the moment we walked through the door.

There were some basic ground rules; these provided safe boundaries for our writing. Everything we wrote was presumed to be fiction unless we stated otherwise. And what was said in the room stayed in the room. Reading our work aloud was always optional although strongly encouraged. And finally, any comments we made were to be about the writing, not the writer. The goal was to respond honestly yet without criticism or judgment.

I had never shared my writing with anyone before, not even my own family. Quite frankly, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to during that first gathering at OHSU. Then, as I took a deep breath and began reading my first essay aloud, I suddenly felt empowered in a way I hadn’t since the onset of my cancer nightmare. Once again, I was a person worth listening to not merely the sum of my cancer statistics.  It felt like someone had just thrown me a lifeline, and I grabbed for it eagerly.

“What do you write about?” friends now sometimes ask me. And I always have to stop and think. I’ve penned essays on dim sum and dandelions, my cats and my kids, childhood memories, and yes, cancer. For me, it’s easier to describe why I write. Like many of us, I write because in some way, I feel compelled to. I write for a sense of connection. But most of all, I write to remind myself again and again that cancer hasn’t silenced my voice. All of our voices.

The Women With Cancer Writing Group is open to all women in the community who are cancer survivors on a space-available basis. More information about the group, including how to register, can be found on the OHSU Cancer-Related Classes page.

***Cara Holman is a member of The Women With Cancer Writing Group at OHSU.  Since joining the group, more than ninety of her poems and essays have been featured online and in anthologies. She blogs at Prose Posies.

Our VoiceCatcher Community:
An Interview with Alida Rol
Interviewed by Nancy Flynn

Alida RolVoiceCatcher 4 and 5 contributor Alida Rol was a practicing ob/gyn for nearly three decades. In 2008, she retired to return to her early love, writing. She’s now a student in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Has the desire to write always been present for you? And was it always poetry?

I have written poems, short and longer stories, since I was in elementary school, but I couldn’t write as much as I wanted to when I was actively practicing medicine. My family and my job always came first. The occasional weekend afternoon or middle-of-the-night, post-delivery musings never felt like enough.

What is the most surprising thing about going back to school after a medical career?

Going back to school for my MFA has meant finding a community I have much more in common with than the medical world I was part of for so long.

The most frustrating?

Being on a very steep learning curve in literature and the arts. I was swallowed up in medical journals and linear lingo for a very long time to the exclusion of other interests. Talk about humbling!

After a successful professional life, many people find it daunting to take even the first step into a new field where they aren’t expert. Can you speak to this whole notion of re-inventing yourself in “middle-age”?

During my 28-year professional career, I lived my life as two different people:  the one who showed up for work (and loved many aspects of it) and the one who narrated everything in her head. After my decision to leave medicine, the two selves merged. It was not a financially sound decision, but it was good for the soul.

English was not your first language. Any thoughts on what this brings to the writing of poetry?

I was born in Holland and changed primary languages several times as a kid. The final switch to English came at age thirteen. If you’re already a language-oriented person and you have to teach yourself a language, you pay particular attention to idiom. Contextual learning can be weird. I’ve sometimes assumed wrong meanings for words or used peculiar syntax. There are times I think of the perfect word or phrase for a poem and it’s not in English. All of this definitely makes me appreciate the impossibility of translating poetry!

What has been the most surprising, difficult, challenging, frustrating, maddening thing about starting to write poetry? Take your pick and tell us one or two!

For me, the most challenging thing about writing poetry is conveying intended meaning.  Once the poem is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. Since poets are driven to impart a slice of experience, I want that slice to resemble my vision as much as possible before I part with it.

And what about delight? Any discoveries or revelations since your return to the world of words that you’d like to share with us?

We have all experienced that “aha” moment when a writer is able to say something so precisely and simply, it rings completely true. Those moments are so delicious when they happen-you feel a kinship with the writer and want to yell, “I know just what you mean by that.”  I assume that’s the response many of us are looking for both in our reading and our writing.

Any writer or book you’ve recently read that you’d like to share with the VoiceCatcher community?

I hope mentioning a male writer is not heresy! I really enjoyed Tony Hoagland’s poetry volume What Narcissism Means to Me. I love the plainspoken language along with the music and the social awareness he brings to the page.

What do you think writing and practicing medicine have in common?

Both require discipline and listening/observation in their practice.

What is the strangest subject you’ve found yourself wanting to write a poem about?

How weird is this?  I am currently writing a quartet of poems about a woman over sixty having a baby in our wacky world of over-the-top, high-tech medicine.

***Nancy Flynn is a member of the VoiceCatcher collective and a VoiceCatcher 4 contributor. A former university administrator, she now writes creatively and edits carefully from her sea-green (according to Crayola) house near lovely Alberta Park in Portland, Oregon.

How to Boost Your Productivity
By Sage Cohen

Productivity Strategy #2: Live, breathe and write your platform

Platform is the turf you claim as your area of expertise in your writing life–and it’s everything you do to make that expertise visible (publications, leadership roles, web presence, public appearances, classes.) Every writer can benefit from having a platform–even you. Here’s why:

Focus. When you’re clear about your topic or area of expertise, you know which writing, speaking, teaching, lecturing, and advising opportunities are a fit and which are not.

Efficiency. Let’s say you’ve written twenty articles about various aspects of organic gardening. The more you write and publish, the greater your wealth of material to draw from, repurpose, and repackage to new audiences.

Relationships. If you are clear that your expertise is writing haiku poetry or ghostwriting biographies for politicians, this helps you choose and build meaningful relationships with clients, colleagues, and editors in your field.

Publishing. Each type of writing has its own, unique publishing market with a specific set of standards, rules, and key players. The more familiar you are with your market, the greater your odds of success.

Opportunity. Once your dedication to your platform has earned you a reputable name in your given field, requests for interviews, articles, speaking engagements, teaching, and more are likely to start rolling in.

Sage Cohen was Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4, a member of the editorial collective for VoiceCatcher 3, and has had work published in VoiceCatcher 2 and 3. She is the author of Writing the Life Poetic and The Productive Writer, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books in December 2010.


Don’t put those used books out on the $1 table at your summer yard sale. Or in the FREE! box on your city curb. Save them all! VoiceCatcher plans to have a used book fundraiser in fall 2010, and we’ll need your donations! That’s right, all those great books Powell’s won’t buy back can find a home with us this fall–and the money we raise goes to a great cause. Keep checking in; details will be forthcoming.

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