Dawn Thompson, Portland, Oregon: Writing and Sacred Spaces

All photographs by Scott Duvall, Portland, Oregon

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, OR

I first met Dawn Thompson while in treatment for breast cancer. My oncologist, Jay Andersen, had connected me with an organization downtown that offered art workshops to women walking my same path.

And then, a writing circle. Sent from the gods.

One evening, halfway through the six-week session, a slender, soft-spoken woman joined us as a special guest. She told us her name was Dawn, and introduced herself as one of the Write Around Portland facilitators who ran these writing groups. I was immediately taken by the respectful way she entered our humble gathering, and the wonder and wisdom that danced through the pieces she shared.

But it was not until a year later, when I took a writing workshop from Dawn herself through Portland Women Writers, that I came to fully appreciate her precious gift.

What Dawn does and does so graciously, so elegantly and compassionately, is simply to create sacred space.  And from that safe circle, writing flows.

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Moon Medicine

She lowers the pail into the well

pulls up black water

a full bucket of it

sets it on the grass to moon bathe until dawn

She has heard tell water painted by the moon

gives you the power to change

loosens old skin and masks

tightened by days of trying

She has heard tell water soaked in the moon’s gaze

becomes the sweet nectar

of free life

free thought

liberation

Under the fits and starts of stars she waits

and when morning finally comes

eagerly tips the metal lip to her mouth

lets the moon dusted river

rush her body

clear her of  all things caged

.

~”Moon Medicine” by Dawn Thompson. Published in We’Moon 2012.

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Dawn Thompson:

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, Oregon

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, OR

“I tend to write a lot about loss and death, rebirth and transformation of the Self. These past years I’ve been writing about my experience with infertility and waiting to adopt, the grief and hope, the profound inner and outer transformations this experience has brought to my life. I notice other writers and myself returning to certain themes again and again in our writing, approaching these themes through different doorways, as if something wiser within us knows what we need to attend to and express. Through my writing it seems I am constantly weaving the true experiences of my outer life with images from my imagination. However, I have come to believe that the ‘fiction’ which arises from my imagination holds as much ‘truth’ as my lived experiences. Combining the two through writing is a powerful alchemy through which I heal and transform myself. It is also a way to create art that can be shared.”

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Inside that Space

I see my uterus there against

my eyes shut

a frankenstein

an abomination

This is what I hear under

the Drs’ tongue clicks

Distorted          Grossly misshapen

Three times its normal size

Knots, small & hard

I’m tied up in knots

crimson fists impossible to undo

no matter how long the fingernails

no matter how much lipstick

hides the news that surgery

won’t work

There’s nothing to be done

for a uterus gone bad they say

except cut it out

throw it away

wet and slick at the bottom of the Glad bag

Where do they go

the discarded, wronged organs

of the Goddess?

They’re not buried back in the earth

they’re not burned and sprinkled

on the altar of our wails

they’re not eaten by the woman

whose loss is a hollow cavern in the belly

through which the wind talks

And the unborn baby cries

inside that space

and the echoes are piercing jade

and the blood flows forever and ever

without the heart of mothers to stop it

.

~”Inside that Space” by Dawn Thompson. Published in Voice Catcher, 2006.

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Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, Oregon

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, OR.

“One of the things I most love about poetry is how it invites us back into our metaphorical mind. In our culture, we rely heavily on the left-side of our brain, which is wonderfully rational and maddeningly literal. While this way of perceiving is very useful when making sense of the world, I have found in my own life that when I lose touch with my poetic perception, I lose touch with the juicy and holy essence of life itself. When I notice that the full moon hanging in the sky is like my grandmother’s face, all of a sudden a doorway opens and the outer landscape of the sky and the inner landscape of my heart merge. From this new vantage point, the moon is no longer just the moon, she is my grandmother, and I have opened myself to insight, inspiration, healing and to a deeper experience of the moment. What I find is the more I practice using my metaphorical mind through the images I create when I write, the more this shift in perception permeates all of my life and allows me to experience the world on multiple levels simultaneously.”

*          *          *

Mother and Child

The limbs of the tree reached to lift me

with great green palms

thinking I was its child.

It sang a lullaby to me on the strings of wind.

I sat myself inside the house of the tree’s trunked body

the sap of its knowing at my back

and I cried a pond

even though it had not asked me to.

I cried all the ways my life had not happened

and the tree never said no

but held me against its years

the wind of its song a breath in me.

Finally, under the tree’s sheltered sky

I grew limbs of no weight

bright and flowered

impossible, glorious wings.

~Dawn Thompson

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Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, Oregon

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, OR.

“When I work with new and seasoned writers we sit in a circle. Circles are respectful.  They are nourishing. There is no hierarchy in a circle. Every writer is seen and heard. Most of us have not been encouraged to trust and celebrate our voices. We come to the circle believing deep down we are not good enough and our stories don’t matter, or that we don’t have the ability to tell our stories. In the circle, we dis-spell this myth. We hold space, listen, witness. When writers feel safe enough to share something they have just given birth to with one another, deep community is built and the terrible isolation we all experience on some level on this human journey decreases. This is probably my most important role as a facilitator – to hold safe, sacred space so that writers have the courage to express what is inside of themselves. What keeps me humble and brave enough to do this work is knowing that the most important thing I can do as a facilitator is to bring my full self to the circle, to be fully present for the creative energy the writers generate together.  

In the workshops I offer through Portland Women Writers, I’ve had the honor of writing with some of the women for years, which means I’ve been witness to how someone’s writing voice can radically strengthen and evolve simply because she is showing up on a regular basis to the page and to herself. I’ve also witnessed the tremendous capacity women have for visionary thinking and the courage they have to go deep and to bring that emotional depth back into the world. Women know how to uplift one another, to encourage, collaborate and celebrate – qualities that our world desperately needs. I also write with elders, some of whom are in their 90’s, and I am reminded again and again that sharing our stories, both the devastating and joyful, is always life-affirming. Often it is life-changing. And fun! While we always have Kleenex handy, there is much laughter – irreverent, hilarious, freeing laughter.

I was first introduced to community writing through my involvement as a volunteer facilitator and later as a staff member of Write Around Portland, a revolutionary non-profit that transforms lives and communities through the power of writing. Now I hold workshops through Portland Women Writers, a collective of independent facilitators who share a mission of offering a safe environment where women can access their creative power, express their authentic voices, and co-create a vibrant and supportive community of women. I have a Master’s degree in Creation Spirituality and a Bachelor’s in Journalism. Who would ever have thought there’d be a way to join these two very different disciplines by offering workshops that use writing for personal transformation and connection? My hope for these next years is to continue to create sacred circles where people can gather to share their stories as well as to carve more personal space to work on a longer writing project – who knows, maybe even a book. My husband, Theo, and I are also waiting to adopt and I’m looking forward with excitement and gratitude to this upcoming adventure.”

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, Oregon

Photo: Scott Duvall, Portland, OR.

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ABOUT DAWN

Dawn Thompson facilitates writing workshops through Portland Women Writers, which promotes personal growth, creative expression, deep healing and the expansion of consciousness through writing in community. Dawn also offers workshops for elders, caregivers and hospice and works one on one with writers to support their writing dreams. Dawn has been published in VoiceCatcher and Thresholds. Three of her poems are featured in the 2012 edition of We’Moon “Chrysalis.” Her poem “Last Days” is included in the 2012 edition of Perceptions Magazine of the Arts published by Mount Hood Community College. Dawn is also the writer for Divine Eros, a photography narrative about women mystics.

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