On Reclaiming Shame EBook

64 students from 8 different countries participated in our inaugural online writing workshop, On Reclaiming Shame. This anthology is comprised of poems written during the class, lead by Olivia Gatwood.

Forward from Olivia Gatwood (excerpt):

I talk about shame often. Even when I don’t intend for it to happen, the topic of shame and its many masks consistently shows up in my work, my conversations, and my teaching. It’s counterintuitive really. It’s exactly what we’re not inclined to do with shame—talk about it. Not only does it go against our instincts to explicitly confront our shame, but we’re trained out of it. Shame, in many ways, is what allows systems of oppression—white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, capitalism—to thrive. It feeds an industry that tells femme people to hate their bodies, and relies on silence and internalization to make money.

So when Strength of Doves reached out to me with an opportunity to teach a four-week class on a topic of my choosing, I immediately thought, “What would it look like for a class of students from all over the world to speak openly about their shame?”

With this in mind, I began to write a poetry curriculum that moved through four stages of tackling shame. First, we began with memory and storytelling. We discussed the specific as the universal, talking about the big topics through tiny moments, and practicing visceral description through showing instead of telling. In week two, we focused on the objects in these stories, asking ourselves, How does centering the story around an object give the reader access into our lives? For instance, focusing on a swimming pool in a poem about body image. By week three, we combined these tactics through writing odes and biographies to our shame. We practiced reclamation by praising that which we have been taught to hate and revisited memory and storytelling by telling the detailed stories of our shame’s evolution. We read and watched the work of writers from Sarah Kay to Ross Gay, Khadijah Queen to Hieu Minh Nguyen. Each week, I met for an hour and a half with nine classes and together we workshopped, discussed, gushed, and of course, cried. Like, a lot.

I knew going into this that the class would be something beautiful—sharing poetry always is. What I didn’t know, or rather, couldn’t prepare for, was the community these students would create with one another—students from over forty cities and eight countries; students of all different ages, all different experience levels. They showed up for one another in ways many of us reserve for best friends or life-long partners. They praised one another, made space for one another, and found themselves in each other.

I hope these poems give you, reader, some insight into the gift that is this group of people. I hope these poems help you unlock your own story, too. I know they helped me unlock mine.


Olivia Gatwood

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