Take a look at the picture above. Those ragged hands made of bits and pieces are reaching out for that ring, a ring symbolizing a hope? a dream? salvation? The fingers are spread far apart and outstretched in either desperation or determination - or both. They are a rightful expression of the response to the guilt, blame, and shame that is so often heaped on victims of sexual assault. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one speaks volumes about the struggle that victims of sexual assault go through to finally break through to the light, pull themselves up, and understand where to place the blame. It is not a wonder that creative expression through the arts, whether visual arts, dance, writing, or theater, is a key element in the healing of the deep wounds caused by abuse. When the soul and often the body are wounded the most, the human spirit uses creative expression as a way to heal. We, humans - yes, us - we created the Arts. Artistic expression comes from that deepest, sometimes unknowable part of the human spirit, and it comes not only to save us and salve our wounds but to make us greater than what we had ever been before.
Joyce Aubrey, a survivor of childhood incest, left a marriage of 35 years and a decades long career as a retail store owner/manager to do something positive and effective to help women recover from sexual abuse. She understood the power of art in all of its various forms to move people away from crippling guilt, shame, and depression by being able to take some action, engage in a process, through which the real self of the person could show up in life and be valued. In her view, creativity in the arts, especially those that move the body, work the hands, and engage the spirit, are the most effective ways and key tools to be used to help survivors to leave victimhood and put the blame where it belongs.
Art work above is from some of the Art Workshops given by Finding Our Voices.
Masks made during the February 2022 Finding Our Voices Art Workshop led by Samantha Allen. They symbolize the way women hide having been abused. The idea here seems to be to externalize what had been kept masked.
Finding Our Voices is the organization that Aubrey founded 15 years ago. Located in the Cottonwood Center for the Arts, the organization provides a variety of activities geared toward helping the victimized through artistic expression. Monthly art workshops that last 3 hours give enough time for the participants to produce a piece of artwork. The workshops are free; the parking is free; and all that is needed is to come in clothes you can paint in. Yarnsters is a weekly group that meets on Tuesdays at 12:30 p.m. at Pike's Perk Coffeehouse (North Academy Blvd.) to spin yarns, tell stories, write poetry, all while working on needle work - or not. There is a writers' group that meets over Zoom on Wednesday mornings, which promotes writing "privately" as a way to give clarity and to frame one's thinking. There are four two-day Artscape Retreats (February, May, August, and November) held at the Heller Center to allow up to 15 participants to "escape into creativity and healing." The art work created can be seen in yearly exhibits at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts. Currently the work is showing in the months of March and April 2022, in the downstairs corridors surrounding the two main galleries.
Finding Our Voices also participates in various advocacy events, especially in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. They will participate in International Denim Day, on April 27, 2022. It is a day when women wear jeans to commemorate a 1990s rape conviction that was thrown out of an Italian court because the woman was wearing tight jeans at the time of her assault. Italian women started a protest movement in which women all over the world wear jeans on Denim Day. The protest works to point out the message in the poster below, again a work from a participant in a Finding Our Voices Art Workshop.
Finding Our Voices is a total volunteer organizaton, the efforts of which have helped it gain funding to go along with donations that are received. Many of the women who have participated have become volunteer advocates and board members. Joyce Aubrey, who at 82, is as full of vigor as she ever was when it comes to helping women survive the traumas of the past, sums it up nicely, when she says, “What I believe with certainty is that you and I, and everyone who tastes the bitter truth of sexual trauma, has within us everything we need to face and overcome adversity.” Her other piece of wisdom is "Silence is toxic."
For more on Finding Our Voices go to https://findingourvoicescs.org/ Follow FOV on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/breakthesilenceofdomesticabuse and check out the publication Resilience: Breaking Through Concrete, a book of the writings of women from FOV, which can be purchased on amazon.com or from Joyce Aubrey, (719) 660-3125.
The modern world is a head spinning mix of fast movement, with things, events, feelings, all flashing past us at record-breaking speed. Leave it to two women poets, whose company is called Becoming Poetry, to find a way to slow things down a bit, and they do it with typewriters. Yes, you heard me, not computer keyboards but typewriters. The idea was to throw back to an earlier, slower time with no electronic intervention. The poets create on the typewriter and whip out a paper with a poem on it, with no need for the beeps and buzzes of a computer printer, electric cables, or wireless connections. It is the use of an oddity that attracts bemused attention, which then becomes the tool that helps produce a delight for those who become clients. This thriving two-woman poetry business arranges to do "Pop Ups," or surprise appearances, at weddings, birthdays, gallery openings, music venues, and the like. The idea of the Pop Up is one that is normally part of the big-city scene, where trendy artsy activities have become part of the city culture. However, as Peyton Elise Craft put it, "If it can happen in Denver, it an happen here."
Obviously, the very name "Pop UP" indicates something surprising that people do not expect to find. The set up that Becoming Poetry uses is quite simple: two chairs, two small wooden folding tables, two typewriters, their classic cases from the 60s, and paper. The other element is the talent of the two writers who take their inspiration from the people who come up and ask for a poem. The client gives the subject, and the poets create a fitting piece to expess it. Elise says that it often shocks the client that the poem is so revealing of their feelings or their character. In some ways it is similar to what portrait artists do on the streets and at art fairs in big cities in the U.S. and Europe, where they rapidly do someone's portrait. It takes a good eye and intuition to do those quick portraits, and the same is true for the creators of the poetry, who must ramp up their intuition to capture the essence of the person before them. The Pop Ups are gaining in popularity and have happened during First Friday Art Walks at places like Kreuser Gallery, in the NODO district of downtown Colorado Springs.
I first met Peyton at my favorite coffee house, Building 3 Coffee in the Lincoln Center, where I often research and write my various blog posts. At the time she was a barista there and one of my favorites (though I love them all). It was one of her colleagues that told me she was a poet, so I spoke with Peyton about being part of a blog post. When asked when did she know she was a poet, she replied that she had been writing since she was a child. She found that poetry in particular helps her understand what she is experiencing in life.
Elise talks vibrantly about her journey from Missouri to Colorado Springs and her return "home" a few years ago. Having gotten used to the arts community in Colorado Springs, as well as the cultural offerings of Denver, she experienced, on her return to Missouri, what American novelist, Thomas Wolfe, famously said, "You can never go home again." She came back to Colorado Springs, , immersed herself in her photography, which is one of her primary activities these days, and got into the coffeehouse and Instagram culture, where she began building her career in poetry. She discovered that Instagram was a perfect tool for displaying her poetry and getting immediate reactions to it. "It is a wonderful way to build community, " Elise says, going on to mention that the man she married first followed her on Instagram, then met her at Building 3 Coffeehouse.
As for the future of Becoming Poetry, there are many plans. With the spring and summer season just around the corner, the Pop Ups will be happening in a variety of places, including many public ones. Certainly look for more of them during the First Friday Art Walks. Elise is also preparing a book of poetry to be released in about 6 months time. She already has an offer to put copies into one commercial venue and is excited about promoting her work in the coffeeshops, boutiques, and other small local outlets, as well as on that giant bookseller, Amazon. The future looks bright and exciting for both the poet and her poetry, and we all get to be the beneficiaries.
An example of Elise's poetry, of the kind that has helped her rise on Instagram, and one to be featured in her upcoming collection of poetry:
in too deep
i feel nearer to you
when the distance widens.
i am trapped within
my own variation of closeness.
you are that moving pin
i’ve never been able to point.
and my finger touches
the state lines on the map
that tell of our olden days.
// the days when we’d skip to
a melodious tune —
and sing our own song
as i’d watch and wait for your voice
to shift something elemental in us. //
this is on-going,
but it’s got to end somehow.
this is all but a majestic mistake,
a forbidden adoration,
an a lie i'd never tell Follow Peyton Elise on Instagram or on her
http://instagram.com/peyyyyyyy as time travels
and i press away,
your ghost will leave too
but your whisper
has a mind of its own.
nearer than the nights we once knew
—in too deep
- p.elise // Peyton Elise Craft
© Marjorie Vernelle 2022