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Alison Luterman: On Art, Fire, and Holding Close to Your Loves


Alison is a friend, a celebrated poet, an InterPlayer, Wing It! performer and deep hearted mystic. In her monthly newsletter she wrote about the oasis of our art practices and feisty creative communities in these times. That and the poem The Great Fire by Jack GIlbert got right to my heart. You can get her monthly newsletter at alisonluterman.net  Thank you Alison!


Dear friends and family,

    Here in Oakland, for the week the fires raged to the north, the air smelled like smoke and ash and burned up lives. We were told to stay indoors. Some people got masks and wore them on the street which began to resemble those of Bejing. We were advised not to exercise, because exercise makes you breathe harder. How can you live without movement, without breath?

     Every night on the news we saw towns thirty miles away from us in flames. Whole city blocks were burning. Homes, schools, hospitals. A rabbi friend of mine sheltered with his congregation at their synagogue, all of them forced to evacuate their houses. For days they stayed there together, not knowing who would have a home to return to, and they sang there, they danced. Yes, they worried–everyone was worried, fear was as palpable in the air as smoke–and I’m sure there were tears as well as prayers, but there was also song. Around and amidst the flames.

     The thing is, the fire is always burning somewhere. Or the flood swallowing the city. There are times when we live very near to the conflagration, so close we can smell it with every breath, and other times when we feel farther away, even detached, and some of us are living right in the heart of hell itself, watching everything we’ve cherished be consumed. Even as I write this, 45 and Kim Jong-un are exchanging empty threats and beating on their chests like a pair of silverback gorillas. They could burn down the world, these two deeply evil men. They might. And yet.

     Just as with my friend Rabbi Keller and his frightened congregation, singing and dancing are here too. Innumerable acts of heroism and generosity have also been on the news in the past few weeks. I hear from friends in the affected counties that their communities have come together in a great outpouring of goodness.

     Many stories will come out of this fire. New things will be born that we are not even aware of yet. For myself I plan to just keep telling stories and writing. And listening deeply and speaking honestly. And breathing, whether through a mask or in a yoga studio, just breathing. And embracing the people I love with hugs that do not end too quickly, staying an extra moment in the shelter of trusting arms.

     As poet Deena Metzger said, “There are those who try to set/Fire to the world/We are in danger/There is only time to move slowly/There is no time not to love.” 

     My oasis this month was my class at Writing Salon. A circle of honest, irreverent feisty souls who make sanctuary for each other. We gathered on the second night of the fires, and kept the windows closed. The next time we met was on the ninth night and still the blaze was not contained. Each week I gave them the option of writing about the disaster instead of following the lesson plan. They said, “We know we can write about fire if we need to, but we came here to do our work.” And then they continued to dig into their own stories, each of which was inexorably connected to the larger story that is so enormous none of us can see the whole of it.  

    I also found relief from despair in the new musical I’m making with composer Richard Jennings. We had a deadline, which made me haul ass as never before, and now we have a complete script with lyrics for around twenty songs, six of which have been recorded. What a pleasure to immerse myself in this other world! And bliss to be back in a music studio with talented singers, recording. I also took refuge in Interplay, and yoga, and yes, Harry Potter this month–this is my drug of choice and it works–as well as Phillip Pullman’s beautiful Belle Sauvage, the first of his new Book of Dust trilogy.    

How would we bear this life without art, or without each other? I am very grateful for each one of you.

Hold close to your loves,



Here’s a poem by Jack Gilbert:

The Great Fires

Love is apart from all things. 
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it. 
It is not the body that finds love. 
What leads us there is the body. 
What is not love provokes it. 
What is not love quenches it. 
Love lays hold of everything we know. 
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness 
at first. Passion is clearly the path 
but does not bring us to love. 
It opens the castle of our spirit 
so that we might find the love which is 
a mystery hidden there. 
Love is one of many great fires. 
Passion is a fire made of many woods, 
each of which gives off its special odor 
so we can know the many kinds 
that are not love. Passion is the paper 
and twigs that kindle the flames 
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes 
because it tries to be love. 
Love is eaten away by appetite. 
Love does not last, but it is different 
from the passions that do not last. 
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk 
in the sweet music of our particular heart. 
–Jack Gilbert




  1. So glad that there are open hearted, loving IP’ers in the midst of these hellish fires and all the travail. May there be consolation with so many beautiful souls gathered around the fires, praying, singing, dancing, loving. Thank you for sharing.

    • cynthia winton-henry says:

      Thank you Anita! I’ll keep encouraging people to follow your Wisdom Ways of Being and Think Like a Bee blog!

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