Mildred Andrews, historian

Esther Helfgott's Poeming the Silence class has helped me find a voice to express my feelings and also to resume my historical writing....Esther, Thanks  ever so much for helping me begin to poem the silence.  Your class has been a highlight of each week with inspiration to pick up a pen.  

Alma Maria Rolfs, psychotherapist, poet

My writing has been mirror, container, permission-giver, a friend with whom I can explore, mourn, and celebrate. I joined Poeming the Silence to support and enhance my writing self.

For our first class exercise Esther asked everyone to look in a mirror and write for ten minutes. Here is what I wrote:

In the Mirror, Seeking Myself

The white hair still a surprise
and the eyes wanting to fill,
the reconstructed chin, those
deep unexpected  lines.

I defocus, see double, note
how I float off to one side of myself.
That other, what does she see?
Whom does she see,
as I see her?

I move, shift the light, and still
I stay unfocused,
my face overlapping itself.

It is hard to smile, to look in, deep,
      to speak in silence to myself:
      whatever is in there is ok, is good.

How seductive it is to float off,
       not quite there,not quite me,
       off center, diffuse,

©Alma Maria Rolfs
October 2006

Claire Tangvald, writer

The 12 minute writes, seeded by Esther's  thoughtfully-chosen poems, were my favorite part of Poeming the Silence. It was nourishing to be with other women -- especially these particular women. I found a sense of quiet strength among us -- acceptance, understanding, empathy without pity, unusual depth. Allowing what is. In stillness. And laughter. And thoughtful consideration.

Denise Calvetti Michaels, poet, psychology teacher:

There was a healing nature to Poeming the Silence. We acknowledged those places in our lives where we were silent by writing about them & naming them & sharing with others, when we felt comfortable to do so.  For me, places of silence include: my father in a care facility; a mid-life woman in relation to her children & grandchildren; naming what brings me joy; finding sanctuary. The camaraderie of other writers created a safe place to explore aspects of our lives that we'd ignored & avoided. Poeming the Silence provided me an opportunity to anchor myself to the writing process.

Beth Coyote, poet, midwife

This summer, I was delighted to find myself in the company of other writers in Esther Helfgott's living room. She lead us into writing exercises by reading the work of women poets. We were not allowed to criticize or make excuses for our work. Through her often invisible guidance, we developed & nurtured our individual writing styles while giving encouragement to each other. I have recommended Poeming the Silence to friends who have a yearning to write. I can't think of a more comforting way to take the plunge!

Carolyn Cox, geriatric social worker, actor

Poeming the Silence was truly an oasis for me.  I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to focus on the writing.  I was wrong. Not only was I able to be present, I learned that my silence was "home" & growing up in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma.  Working with Esther and my classmates, talented and intelligent women, has been a true gift and honor.  The warmth and acceptance I felt in each meeting gave me permission to probe inside myself. I'm now deep into memoir writing.  I get to retell all of the special stories that I've kept locked away.  This adventure has given me great joy and has renewed my enthusiasm for writing.  I am going where I have never gone before.  Thanks, Girls.

Carolyn Cox, geriatric social worker, actor

Working with Esther in her Poeming the Silence class is truly a gift I give to myself.  Gathering on Monday nights with a group of intelligent and creative women from all walks of life led and nurtured by Esther, we learn to take risks with our hearts and with our pens.  A chance to go inside ourselves and tell parts of our story.  Thanks Esther.  Can't wait for the next class to begin!

Charlotte Houck, social service worker, poet

Not so sure about this hot/cold drink
tea/coffee, caffeinated/decaf approach.
Not so sure about the 'safe place' to write.
I have one at home, just a few blocks away.
Not so sure about no critique
I'd like to have input, suggestions on how to write better.
I don't write well in a group
I like to jot down ideas in my own time at the end of the day.
I don't like to read a first draft, I like to work on it, tweak it,
and when I feel that it is almost there, submit it for critique.
Still I am lonely and troubled and sense
that others in the room are too.
This is a safe place where we can probe the psyche.
We have a guide and a mentor, ideas bubble up . . .

Cynthia Price, educator

I came into Esther's house never having taken a poetry workshop or writing class. What was new for me was writing poetry in-the-moment (with a time limit) in response to another poem or idea (vs. writing in response to a personal inspirational moment).

This experience was insightful because the material that came to the forefront was not what I had ever written about before - and I developed lots of ideas for other poems in the process.

The group format is wonderful - the nonjudgmental community and support were lovely.  Esther has a great format - her openness and responsiveness create a positive experience for everyone.

Participants' Comments
Poeming the Silence: A Women's Writing Group
dedicated to the use of the poem as a vehicle for accessing voice
This page was last updated on: 8/8/2014
Writing elicits insight.  It fosters self- understanding & personal growth.

Writing helps us  remember ourselves in the past.  It uncovers silences & secrets
& helps us confront
suffering & loss.