Journey from Silent Woman to Poet

by Brooke Lehmann

Brooke Lehmann

Sue Monk Kidd’s acclaimed memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, revolutionized my life when I first read it five years ago. While I had already distanced myself from my conservative, evangelical Christian upbringing, I continued to feel unsatisfied with my spiritual life. I had spent the decade of my twenties working long hours, often traveling for a job that drained me. My life lacked any sort of balance, and I had lost touch with my natural temperament and creative longings.

Like many women raised in traditional patriarchal religious cultures, I had been taught to be subservient and compliant. I was good at pleasing—pastors and church leaders, managers, my husband, even friends. I had been taught that male voices (cis-gender white males) were the ultimate authority. Looking back, it’s no surprise that I suffered such intense fatigue and unsatisfaction. My body was numb. I didn’t understand my deeper longings, much less possess the capacity to express them. I had become what Kidd calls a Silent Woman.

About her own emergence from Silent Womanhood, Kidd writes: “I began to reflect on the ways I’d withheld my opinions, muzzled disconcerting truths, refrained from expressing my true feelings, squelched riskier ideas, or thwarted my creativity. When I did that, I was living out the script of the Silent Woman. Being a Silent Woman is not about being quiet and reticent, it’s about stifling our truth. Our real truth.”

Like Kidd, I realized I had become censored and exiled from my truth, a Silent Woman, an archetypal Philomela. And I had become sick with a serious autoimmune disorder. I knew that, if I couldn’t find a way to express myself, recover my voice, I would not live very long.

That summer I devoured the book, underlining passages in multiple-colored pens, scribbling in the margins of almost every page. I acquainted myself with Goddess mythology and engaged in my own spiritual exploration through retreats and new rituals.

I also started attending a Goddess group that shared nourishing meals together and talked about celebrations and difficulties in our personal lives. Through that group and mentorship of other wise women, I began attuning to nature—noticing goldfinches and bluebirds outside the window, delighting in the sight of a fawn trotting through the oak canopy behind our house. As I became present to the natural world, I became more present to myself, more fully embodied in my own feminine rhythms.

I also decided to follow my creative yearnings and discovered Charlotte Lit, where I began journaling and writing about my own experiences of religious abuse and injustice within my church and family upbringing. Writing helped me explore my anger about the marginalization of women’s voices, particularly within faith traditions. Gradually, my repressed feelings began to emerge from deep within my unconscious and alchemize into poems.

As I got bolder in my own authority and conviction—I believed I had a right to share these powerful stories—I decided to embark in writing my first poetry chapbook through Charlotte Lit’s Poetry Chapbook Lab. In community, I was able to write a coherent narrative, and break the shackles of my own Silent Woman conditioning.

Kidd’s memoir offered me the courage to be dissident in the face of erasure, helped me find my voice. It continues to remind me of the important work women can do in community. Please join me this summer for this series devoted to sharing our stories and the ongoing work of awakening.

Brooke Lehmann, program director at Charlotte Lit, is a poet and creative who draws inspiration from nature, fashion, and her love of the piano. Her poems have been featured in Tar River Poetry, Pedestal Magazine and others. She was longlisted for the 2022 Palette Poetry Sappho Prize for Women Poets. Brooke holds a B.S. from Purdue University and is also a graduate of the Arts and Science Council Cultural Leadership Training program. She serves as an advisory group member of Charlotte Center for Mindfulness.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter at Charlotte Lit. On four Thursdays beginning July 13, Brooke leads a journey into Kidd’s classic memoir…and ourselves. Join us!