TEDxWomen Klepto-Collaborative Poem


The gracious & gorgeous folks of Culture Pilot, the curators of TEDxHouston, hosted a simulcast viewing of the TEDxWomen conference at Taft Street Coffee / Ecclesia Church.   This conference was an inspiring, exhilarating event.  Wow, talk about Ideas Worth Spreading!

Here’s the official description:

“TEDxWomen, a one-day event planned for December 1 at the Paley Center locations in both New York and Los Angeles, will gather global thought leaders and innovators for a cross-disciplinary program focused on how women think and work, communicate and collaborate, learn and lead what this means and why it matters to all of us. Speakers from around the globe including women and men, from anthropologists to artists, scientists, and futuristswill share their ideas in the classic TED format, creating a program that surprises and inspires. TEDxWomen is curated and produced by The Paley Center for Media, and hosted by the Paley Center’s President and CEO, Pat Mitchell.”

Just as I did for TEDxTheWoodlands back in September, I created a klepto-collaborative poem from the words & phrases of all the speakers, hosts, and even the TED Talk videos that were shown during breaks of TEDxWomen.  I call it a klepto-collaborative poem because, in essence, I’m “stealing” words & phrases from others; it’s collaborative because even though they weren’t aware of it, all those who crossed stage & screen for TEDxWomen contributed.

I suppose the poem will make more sense if you actually heard the Talks from TEDxWomen, though I did endeavor to craft a piece that would stand on its own, whether you had the privilege of experiencing the conference or not.  I hope I succeeded.  (I’ll let you all be the judge of that!)  Some Talks from the TEDxWomen 2011 Conference are already available online & more will be added in the weeks to follow.  They’re all amazing, trust me.

If you’ve already heard some or all of the speakers, you’ll no doubt recognize these words & phrases, as well as be reminded of the stories & ideas associated with them.  My goal with these klepto-collaborative poems is to build them up from various word-and-phrase “blocks” – lifted from the Talks & the exchanges between hosts & speakers – then reconfigure what I’ve plucked out of the mix, rearranging & shaping – like puzzle pieces whose curves & edges are malleable – finessing the various bits into a new whole.  One which still retains, but presents in a fresh way, the truth & intention of the original.

Feel free to think of this as one poem in six parts or a story with six chapters, six different poems or six separate stories.  However you take my creation in, I hope you enjoy.  Most of all, I hope that I did well in re-voicing all of the magnificent, authentic & valiant, empowered & empowering messages of TEDxWomen.  I feel tremendous gratitude for all that was shared through the conference, and for the local community of TED here in the Greater Houston area. TEDxHouston, TEDxTheWoodlands & TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands, I consider you all my compadres, my sisters & brothers in extended TED family.

This is my gift back to those speakers & hosts of TEDxWomen, to all the organizers & behind-the-scenes make-it-happen folks (including you, Culture Pilot & Taft Street Coffee/Ecclesia), to each girl & woman gathered across the globe in sisterhood, in community ~

“You Strike A Woman, You Strike A Rock”

          a Klepto-Collaborative Poem, in six parts – crafted from TEDxWomen, December 1st, 2011




Our collective history of

Not wanting to take up too much space

The pressure to be conventionally feminine

Accepting the presumptions of our fathers

Being popular         Starving to fit in

Tweezing      Bleaching     Botox

Painful waxing

The new social norm        Of plastic surgery



Across the globe     Of our bodies

In search of

A cure


Measuring up to     Magazine covers

Myths                        Perpetrated by

Hollywood                “Real Housewives”

The industry of pornography


The media    Consuming bad behavior


A sense of entitlement

Handicapped with the notion that value lies in beauty


That lense                The lessons

Alarming loss

The sport      Of comparing          Devaluing

Hyper-sexualizing             Stealing innocence

Yes      The world does fall apart

Yes      History tried to crush

She caused a sensation     Sold violence and sex

What I’m here to say is

Pirates           Soldiers         History

You’re done

You are not the boss of me


Regardless of age or gender

Culture of conformity

We’ve had enough

My sisters and I

Will bypass you      Move on

Pursue other friend opportunities

Invest in our own unique identity

The good girl

The odd girl out

Shy, sensitive and sweet creatures

Brave                        Hope

Wings folded                        Or stretched to the limits

A strange mixture of humility and daring


They are all us

An all-female bomb squad

A new legacy

Thinking differently

Driven by a cause, a purpose, a belief

Each woman                       Beautifully designed

From the inside out


Mothers and daughters and sisters

Walked into the room

Of not-good-enough

Like the sun

Broke through the glass ceiling

With their high-heels

With blood, sweat and tears

With voices raised

With an instinct to save

Crossing the chasm

Of what came before

With the radical idea

Of equality


None of what I’m telling you is my opinion

After decades of

Swallowing              Abuse

You go home with something broken

Retreat into silence

Coiled ropes at the edges of nothing

A vast horizon

Of isolation

Subliminal              Epidemic

Hungry        Haiku

Of invisible question marks


You wake up


Pregnant with        Dark matter

Folding on itself

Giving birth to

Dark energy

Nightmares             And self doubt

A kind of kryptonite

How many Generations of girls are

Tragically scarred                        Misdiagnosed

Suffering consequences of resistance

A sense of invisibility Like an oil spill

Voices constantly saying

Be nice          Be pretty

Be seen but not heard

Be sexy and skinny

But not too smart

Not too fast

Which transitions into

Unexploded ordinance

We all carry with us

Pass on to our daughters and granddaughters

Party favors

Parting gifts


As a fishing vessel

A bottle of poison

A refugee camp

A couple of little spikes

An assembly line

The first apple I ever tasted


Women of hope       Begin to rule

Imminently qualified

Burning up with a fever

Awaken        Chosen

Wings extended

Women of change

It’s time to    Pilot the plane

Write your own stories

Believe in our glorious     Female pattern

A rich iron mine

Gravitational attracting            Bending the curve

Achieve this tipping point

Personal relationship with the heart

A huge pot of soup which we all share

Nourished    With belief

You’re not helpless

You’re someone

You’re just fine

Darling          Free yourself

March with generations of women

On the mall in Washington

Become advocates of

The magic of existence that is us

Showing up united

Our militia   Of change

Dance with joy, dance with love

On the frontiers of possibility

With occasional graffiti

That gift from the boat

A dream speech

A higher authority

Of compassion

Of community

Girls and women

Great oracle Golden circle

The scale of the night sky

Bow dipping into each wave      Of speaking out

Defying fiction

Telling one another the story

Mother of invention

Never let me forget

Plant me       Marvel

I’m here to stay

Here’s a human heart

Powerful       Origami

Beyond comprehension

Connecting all of us

Take ahold of that small hand

Never let go

Believe, believe, believe


Lo and behold, look what’s happening

With girls all over the world

Lo and behold

All over the world



Behold,          Girls

The world


Come, say goodbye                        To our shared history

Of soldiers at the break of dawn

Pirates at midnight                      And mockingbirds

Shed the voices       Of the past

Of patriarchy                     Misogyny

The roles       Of restriction


We can fix our own

Broken          Wings

Don’t leave me up here all by myself

Make that journey                        Walk the line

We can’t afford to wait

I welcome you         To the rebirth

Look to the woman on your left

Look to the woman on your right

Take her hand

Side by side

We can          Wish

Leap forward                       Take flight

Create a brand new story

Talking about a child

A little girl climbing a tree

A poet, a playwright, a teacher, a politician, a neurobiologist

Capacity to imagine                     Freedom

Interwoven              In the bloodstream

Listen                        This will protect the heart

We are not hopeless

This    Is the revolution

We are pioneering our     Evolution

Exploring     The fertile void

Nurturing   The upward ascension of the human spirit

Girls are the solution

Cure for        The old paradigm

Their authenticity                        Their passion

Is the beginning of the beginning

The reverse of         The so-called          Golden rule

Let’s see them safely through

Build an alliance   With the young leaders of today

Spread the word     We are one village

One tribe      One blood

Remember   The 17 year-old activist in South Africa

Fighting for equality


Not for a life of ease                       Or for technology

But for the privilege of education

Her name is Busisiwe

Which, translated, means Blessed

Busisiwe Mkhumbuzi is a woman & a name I will never forget.  The title of this poem, “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock,” comes from her Talk, and I dedicate this poem to her.   She’s a mover & shaker with VGirls (inspired by the life & work of the incomparable Eve Ensler).  If you don’t know about this global network of women & girl activists & advocates, my bet is you’re gonna wanna kiss me (or at least Luke’s fluffy golden head) for turning you on to the way VGirls is changing the world we live in.  Please, spread the word!

I invite you, in the Comment/Response space below, to compose a klepto-collaborative poem of your own from my poem or directly from the TEDxWomen Talks. I welcome you to share your story, the stories of girls & women in your life, your community and/or across the globe. I’m always hungry for inspiring stories, and though I don’t always remember to explicitly invite you, please know that you’re always welcome here (and on my other blog, if you frequent that as well) to give feedback, share stories, ask questions, provide links to relevant issues/stories/organizations/people of note. Don’t be shy, OK? 🙂

For more examples of my klepto-collaborative poetry, go here.  Feel free to be in touch if you’d like to learn more about the process, or if you’d like for me to come do a klepto-collaborative poem as a valedictory capstone to your event.

*** The circling, dancing goddess images in this post are from a painting by my beloved sister-friend Peggy Peyton.  She is an artist, a mentor, a woman of  genuine insight, inspiration & compassion.  It’s so perfect to have Peggy’s art showcased in a post about the strength & resilience of girls & women. It’s even more perfect to pair her creation with my own, because she’s one of the women who most helped me find my voice as a young woman and encouraged me to claim it through the creative expression of prose & poetry. She – along with her handsome, devoted husband Bob, who I’m also lucky to call my dear friend – has always championed the raising of my voice, both artistic and otherwise. I’m blessed to have Peggy and the visual poetry of her art in my life. I’ve known her over two decades of laughter-laced friendship, and I pray for many more decades of art, stories & laughter over tables spread with simple, good nourishment, dogs begging for treats at our feet.
TEDxWomen is about what girls & women can accomplish when we come together, so it’s fitting that I celebrate the spirit of women united by sharing a little bit with you about a connection that has made me stronger & more resilient, more of who I am & who I’m meant to become. I’m sure you have someone like Peggy in your life. But if you don’t, the TED community is a perfect place to find a woman to befriend, to be mentored, and to mentor.

About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. www.deniselanier.wordpress.com & www.wonkybent.wordpress.com

11 responses »

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  5. Hi Miranda,

    Thank you So Much for responding to my klepto-collaborative poem from the TEDxWomen conference.

    And THANK YOU for letting me know that I had misheard the meaning of your sister’s name! I really like the word and concept of “bliss” (one of my favorite words, actually) but I love to crazy bits that Busisiwe means “blessed.”

    I hope this finds you and your sister well & happy; I also hope that we will meet in person someday!



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