Reviews

Santa Cruz Sentinel –DVD REVIEW

“Sisters Celebrate in Capitola” by Chris Watson, April 15, 2010

Women are good at gathering. Whether for babies or weddings, over coffee or quilts, they seek each other out, finding support and sanctuary in solidarity.

In November 2008, four days after the election of President Barack Obama, such an act of communal intimacy and hope transpired. The event, held at Holy Cross Hall to a standing-room-only audience, celebrated the release of “Sisters Singing,” an anthology of women’s prayers, poetry, art and songs edited by Carolyn Brigit Flynn.  It was a night of inspiration and promise for the largely progressive audience.

Filmed by poetry contributor Marigold Fine of First Circle Productions and Chris Thompson of Soundvision Media, the seven hours of tape were later pared down into a graceful two-hour DVD with the help of a grant from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County. The resulting DVD is a generous look at what Flynn calls “the magic that occurs when the written word is read aloud.”

Those who missed the 2008 event will have an opportunity to view excerpts from and buy copies of the DVD this Friday at the Capitola Book Cafe. Also on tap is live music, art and a poetry reading by several other contributors to the book. An anthology that includes the work of 137 female writers more than 30 from Santa Cruz, 20 visual artists and 14 musicians, “Sisters Singing” has amassed strong word-of-mouth buzz in the months since its release. The DVD magnifies the excitement.

In addition to cameos of the Santa Cruz Mission, close-ups of the art and scattered shots of the audience attending that 2008 event, the editors have woven together a delectable menu of the evening’s poetry with a healthy dose of music — most inspirationally, from singer/pianist Alysia Tromblay of Seattle.

While Linda Holiday poetically reminds us that change takes time, Ziggy Rendler-Bregman urges all within ear-shot to become beautiful for one another. Laura Paster embraces the world by testifying that each of us is a prayer, is a song. And Nancy Grace, returned from a seven-week coma, proves it.

While Carolyn Davis Rudolph and Gretchen Sentry provide dollops of good humor, Mary Camille Thomas acknowledges that, sometimes, the need for words simply evaporates. And Jean Mahoney concurs, adding: “You may yearn to fill the silence so much so that you learn to look inside yourself in that deep place where all the hubbub of your first cry began … Breathe there … In that place of your first voice. .. Breathe.”

While the evening honored women and was attended mostly by women, Carolyn said men are forever and always included in the sisterhood. Without each other, there is no future.

 

Story Circle Book Reviews

by Becca Taylor, February 18, 2009

Sisters Singing is at once contemplative and celebrational with over one hundred women joining together to shed light on the inner workings of the female soul. The title of the book truly speaks to me. I had the immense fortune of listening to Susan Lincoln, musician and founder of the Hilde Girls women’s spirit song circles, speak and sing at the 2008 Stories from the Heart conference in Austin… Dozens of timid, uncertain voices merged into one strong group-voice that coursed through each of us. It was as if, all of one mind, we stopped focusing on our individual voices and how we sounded, and sang for the pleasure of hearing the group voice rise and fall in harmony. The power of that moment, of when the collective truly joined, was transformational. The music joined us at a primal level and crumbled barriers.

So it is with Sisters Singing. Imagine yourself sitting in front of a large fire, the flames dancing and leaping in front of you. First you are alone, seeking warmth and comfort from the fire in front of you. Then you become aware of a gathering of women that surrounds you. Wise and compassionate, these women begin to weave their stories, truths learned deep in their souls, and the sharing of the truths is so honest and genuine and free, you can’t help but bask in it, soaking it all in. Some truths are spoken, some are not, but all are shared. This is the power of women sharing their life stories. This is the power of listening to those stories.

The collection is edited with such care and love that I can’t find a single fault with the anthology. Photos and artwork enhance the topic of the adjoining written word. Each piece builds upon the previous, urging the reader to turn the page and stumble upon the next treasure. Since I was given the book as a reviewer, I was determined to read it through from front to back. Instead, I was compelled to flip the pages until something caught my eye. I’d read one poem and eagerly scan until I found another story or illustration. And every single time I was even more excited to encounter the next. My review copy has traveled, literally, thousands of miles with me now. The corners are banged up, the spine is scratched, and there are so many flags and markers you can barely see the edge of the page. But that’s a bit like our own life stories, isn’t it? Traveled, worn down, memorized, but still waiting to be opened for the truth that lies within.

 

CANYON NEWS

by Tommy Garrett, May 2009

“Sisters Singing” is a compilation of blessings, prayers, art, songs, poetry and sacred stories of modern day women. The book, which was edited by Carolyn Bridgit Flynn, was something that was given to me as a gift to read over the Memorial Day holiday. It did come with a lot of hype and praise. Acclaimed author Maya Angelou writes, “I intend to keep ‘Sisters Singing’ in arm’s reach for at least the next year. Congratulations on this fine work.”

It goes without saying, if Maya Angelou is a fan of your literary work, you are doing something right. These wonderful women absolutely did do something right. Putting this book together gives the read a portal through strength, faith and hope. The women who coordinated this project are inspiring in their own right. But their writings and literary contributions only solidify their stature within the literary community.

Book authors can tell you that people can be brutal. They can hack up your work, call it bad and have not even seen it. It comes with the territory. People are simply unaware of what hard work it takes to make a book a dream, write it and then publish it. So I have great praise for the women involved in this project. Deena Metzger, author of new poetry collection “Ruin and Beauty,” and several novels and works of non-fiction, wrote the foreword for “Sisters Singing.” “This joint poetry reading/music concert will be a living prayer,” says Metzger, “a real embodiment of women’s spiritual lives as articulated in this beautiful book.”

“Sisters Singing” weaves and intertwines many visions of some of the most talented and spiritual women in the world and compiles it in chapter form but breaks all the rules and constraints in order to make the book so interesting, you cannot put it down. I told someone when I was reading it, I didn’t find anything boring, but if the reader isn’t quite interested in one poem, prose or song, a prayer in the next chapter will get them on their knees with hands folded together.

It’s one of the most inspiring pieces of literature that I’ve ever read in my life. A book written by uncommon women of uncommon beauty, and is the result of a four-year collaboration of people who were guided by poet and essayist Carolyn Brigit Flynn, who is the book’s editor.

This book is like a dewy morning in the spring. You want to get it in your hands and devour it before the dew and mist are gone and the heat and stress of the day encompasses your life. It is both inspiring as well as uplifting.

Flynn managed to bring all the stories, poems, songs and prayers together in a readable fashion but also very organized so that the book is something anyone can read and read you should. Though it’s written and edited by women, men should not be intimidated by this publication. It’s very enlightening for the reader no matter whether you are a man or woman. It is inspiring to young women, I am sure. But it is equally as enjoyable to me, a man as it would be for anyone who took time to read this wonderful book.

 

FEATURE BOOK OF THE MONTH, Rocky Mountain Retreat Center
by Kathleen Spring, May 2008

When I first saw the title of this book, I thought it contained songs about and helpful to women. But when I started thumbing through it, I was overwhelmed with delight at the large variety of material written for and by women.  From essays, to poems to ceremonies, photos and sketches.  The works are broken down into categories which seem to try and identify the paths and dreams of women: like “Ode to the Mother” and “Everyday Offerings,” but a person could open the book to any page and find something inspirational or touching.

It would be the ideal book for “places where women share…” like book clubs, sisters over tea, girlfriends at lunch, a solo walk with Mother Nature.  If a person could only buy one book to use as a source book of profound or playful female writings, this would be the perfect book.

excerpt:  “Keep Walking” (poem) “It is a good road. Its mean passages and dark turns /Are but a fleck in the great sky / …Tell the shattered girl / Whose skin is bruised / Her life beams beyond her. / Everything / Is Larger than we thought.” (by Carolyn Brigit Flynn)

excerpt:  “Musings of a Prolacting Junkie”  (essay) “I am lying awake …as the clock flips to 5:42, the moment of Chelsea’s birth. She is fourteen today…I slip out on a hike to visit the waterfall…gentle gust of wind…crunch of dirt…In this reverie I am back at Chelsea’s birth–the moment after a long labor, when she was born…she was born checking things out…People are universally drawn to new babies..to gaze into their wise eyes…”

 

Bookshop Santa Cruz, Bookseller Nomination for Indie Next  

by Georgine Balassone, March 24, 2009

This impressive anthology of spiritual writing is like a hand-made quilt.  Each piece is, in itself, a work of art, but it is the way they are woven together that brings out the true beauty of the whole.  Filled with essays, art, poems, songs, and prayers, this unique collection combines the talents of a wide variety of women who write about  the pain and joy of life with both passion and understanding.

At times funny, at times heartbreaking, and always thought-provoking, these pieces reveal the challenges women face – and have always faced – in trying to find and express our deepest selves, our spiritual selves, while, at the same time, living our busy, daily lives as wives, lovers, mothers, daughters, and, of course, sisters.  Whether they are imagining the inner life of an oak tree, singing a song to Mother Earth, practicing Buddhism, or grieving over the death of a long-time companion, these wonderful writers and artists offer compassion, wisdom, prayers, and luminous insight to anyone seeking a greater connection to themselves, to the earth, and to each other.

 

Santa Cruz Sentinel

by Chris Watson, November 30, 2008

Santa Cruz never ceases to surprise.

Recently, Carolyn Brigit Flynn, Santa Cruz poet, essayist and writing group facilitator, sent me a copy of “Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs, Poetry and Sacred Stories by Women,” which she edited and which Wild Girl Publishing of Santa Cruz will officially launch early next year.

Without expectations, I browsed the plethora of poems and art included in the volume and found myself enveloped by a choir of women’s voices, over 30 of them from Santa Cruz, pulling me into a healing circle. My spirits were lifted and hope re-engaged, which is odd, because I’m only nominally spiritual and I didn’t think I’d quite quaffed all the hope I’d been laying by over the years.

More sustenance was found in the biographical notes of the more than 130 contributors. Concentrating mostly on the biographies of local contributors, I was surprised anew by the depth of the spiritual waters in this town. If you want an idea of how women artists – in Santa Cruz and elsewhere –are actively working for peace and prosperity in the world, read this book. And read the biographical profiles at the end too.

There’s hope in the world.

 

The Santa Cruz Good Times, “A Circle of Women Lift Up their Voices”

by John Malkin, October 31, 2008

It may be the politicians and their campaigns for power that garner much public attention, but it’s the musicians and poets who are the real magicians and prophets of our time. “Sisters Singing” is a brand new anthology that celebrates the sacred prayers, art and songs of women. Edited by Carolyn Brigit Flynn, the book is published by local independent press Wild Girl Publishing. (sistersinging.com )

The seed for “Sisters Singing” was planted only months after Sept. 11, 2001. Carolyn Brigit Flynn was leading local writing groups and remembers the time well: “There were women’s writing groups meeting in my home on a weekly basis and everyone was broken hearted and ashen faced, feeling a lot of dread,” Flynn says. “I started to think that really the answer for creative writers, bearing the act of witness, was to pray. That meant prayer in terms of paying deep attention to all of the spirits that any of us felt were sacred. We started writing prayers and the work was so beautiful that I just felt that something new had broken open.”

Flynn encouraged the women in her groups to write about spiritual connection and prayer as an antidote to suffering and violence. She then sent out a national call for work for more writing about the sacred nature and flow of life, as experienced by contemporary women. “I think we’ve got a collection that’s very intimate and very deep inside women’s experience of what is sacred in their lives,” says Flynn.

Kate Aver Avraham was among those who answered the call: “When the call for work came to me, I felt an energy to it and it felt true,” Avraham says. “I knew that I could send in three pieces that were the most intimate and deeply personal that I had ever written and that it would be safe and the place for it. I want to use my creativity to make a difference in the world in whatever way I can.”

In total, there are more than 100 writers, 20 visual artists and 14 musicians from across the country included in the book, with themes exploring the sacred in daily life, death, birth, connections with the earth, animals and prayers for peace and the world. About 35 of the contributors are from the Santa Cruz area.

Andrea van der Loo is a local writer who has three poems in “Sisters Singing,” including “Song of a Luscious Wench,” which ends with the following stanza:

No need for anything
but the sacred fire
of my own sweet breath
moving through me
on streams of quiet bliss

“I feel spiritually the most in the flow when poetry comes,” says van der Loo. “Some of the very finest experiences of my life are when the poetry flows and I feel really in tune. It’s delicious.”

Spiritual wholeness also motivates Carolyn Davis Rudolph, another local poet featured in “Sisters Singing.” “After I meditate, if I’m unsettled, I take out my paper and my notebook and I just write,” Rudolph says. “I will arrive somewhere that’s aaahhh, yes—this is my action or this is my truth.”

“Prayer is like any relationship,” explains Carolyn Flynn. “Prayer is how one shows up for the rest of the world … anytime you let yourself really pay attention and acknowledge the life around you, you’re in prayer.” Avraham agrees; “Prayer is about touching others and making a difference. We’re made out of energy and so when we pray, we’re connecting with everyone else and the one.”

American Chronicle

“Sisters Singing: Anthology of Blessings, Prayers & Poetry Comforts the Female Spirit”   by Pam Vetter, May 2009

Life can be complicated and stressful, especially for women as they are expected to wear many hats and do it all with a smile How can women escape or accept the pressures they face? By embracing their womanhood and joining forces to support and nurture each other, we are comforted.

“Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs, Poetry & Sacred Stories by Women” is a book that reinforces the nurturing side of all ladies in the world. This anthology calms the spirit and answers the most stressed heart.

When I read this book I was feeling overwhelmed with everything from my kids and husband, writing and conducting funerals, dealing with others’ grief, professional goals, personal hopes, and household responsibilities. I read this book cover to cover over the course of a day and enjoyed every moment. It not only lifted my spirits, but also made me soar with pride for facing my responsibilities as a woman. This book made me proud of my roles at home and work.

“Sisters Singing” is an empowerment of womanhood. While it’s spiritual, it’s not religious. The book is an inclusive experience as it truly transcends religious boundaries that oftentimes exclude others. We all have our own spirituality and we are entitled to our own beliefs.

There is so much in this book to love that you will find yourself re-reading portions that touch your heart.

As both a daughter and mother, I was especially touched by “Ode to Mother,” “Prayer for My Mother,” and “A Parent´s Pledge.” With each reading, you realize the importance of a woman’s role in life. Whether a parent or not, we support our friends and strangers alike. Every school morning I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my sons and I loved the pastel artwork by Robin Rector Krupp entitled “Peanut Butter and Jelly.” It made me smile because that is my morning, every weekday morning.

In the short story “Before Dawn” by Johanna Courtleigh, there is a great appreciation for life and the challenges we face. “A Writer’s Prayer” by Sarah Jones captured the challenges of writing an original piece that captures the moments in life. It was so fitting to my work of writing an original eulogy that honors a loved one, whom I have never met but learn about through family members.

The chapter entitled “I Am Nothing Without My Dead” made me cry and yet smile through my tears. It was as if these were my experiences. “The Cup Runneth Over” by Kate Aver Avraham reminded me of my sister’s last moments on Earth. Those small moments in trying to nourish someone who is dying are remembered for life. “Last Moments” by Marcy Alancraig brought me back to my father’s death. While we often witness our loved ones who struggle to live, at the time of death there is a freedom to that moment. There is no more pain, no struggle, and no paralysis, only freedom to soar.

The other pieces in this section were equally as poignant including the poem entitled “The Funeral.” The story of the spreading of ashes in Ohio by Libby Chaney, “Ohio,” was powerful, as her mother’s ashes were spread on land and her father’s ashes were spread on the water. Both choices were fully honored and it was comforting. The photo of the “One Hundred Year Old Apple Tree” by Terese Armstrong was poignant to our history. I’ve always had a love of trees, especially old trees that carry a lifetime of stories. Later in the book when you find the photo of the “Grand Oak” by Sara Friedlander, you will want a framed copy of that photo to hang in your home.

“Life After Death” by Nancy J. Rigg was a moving read exploring the empowerment in saying goodbye, facing our own death and choosing life after death. We are all entitled to our own spiritual beliefs. The poem “If You Died” by Cheryl Gettleman was incredibly emotional as the words created photos in your mind. Exploring the ‘what if you died’ scenario is both a mix of reality and sadness.

Personally, one of the most unexpected reads in the book was “The Homecoming” by Sara Wright. This piece explores the discovery of her brother’s ashes in the attic many years after his suicide. Her parents had lied about burying his ashes for 32 years. Can you imagine? How she finally says goodbye is a powerful, tearful read and exploration of the human spirit where the reader finds comfort. It is a part of our individual journey on how to find a way to move forward even when the rug is seemingly pulled out from under us.

Poet Barbara Thomas hits home with the poem “To My Beloved Husband of Fifty Years,” as mourning turns to morning and a new dawn. For some reason, I have re-read this poem more than a dozen times since reading the book the first time. Maybe it reminds me of my mother dealing with my father’s death, because as she has told me, every day is a new day but losing a spouse of many decades is not easy.

Just when you think you’ve discovered another emotional piece, a photograph touches you. The “Tiger Swallowtail” photo by Teresa Armstrong reminded me of my country childhood and made me smile. The Acrylic “Portal” by Barbara Thomas can be interpreted in many ways. For me, it served as a comforting scene as no one is alone as they pass into the light, wherever that may be after death. My favorite art piece was the Silkscreened Scarf entitled “Huntress” by Carmella Weintraub. Truly, it is a piece of empowerment as we reach toward our goals.

There is a sense of “Belonging” to womanhood through Acrylic and Oil Pastels by Carol Gaab. “Prayer of Thanksgiving” by Marigold Fine reinforces the gratitude women have for life. And, by the end of the book, you feel welcomed into the circle as a sister. You also feel an overwhelming sense to call or e-mail your female friends and just say thank you for their support and love.

“Sisters Singing” is a wonderful book that offers so many different levels of understanding and comfort. With the women in our lives by our sides, we are not alone.