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Loss: A Shape-shifter

*Adapted from a blog I wrote as a Pongo Publishing mentor in collaboration with Seattle Public Library - April 2013 (part 1 of 4).

In my role as a writing mentor with Pongo Teen Writing, and in my psychotherapy practice, loss is a common denominator in most stories I have heard. I think this is because loss is a shape-shifter, appearing as one emotion (shock, sadness) then suddenly changing into something else (guilt, anger), continuing to shift in a multitude of ways, sometimes for many years. Literally and metaphorically loss is a death, a dismemberment that often surges with moments of confusion and moments of clarity. Loss compels us to write because it naturally develops questions that can rattle the core of who we believe ourselves to be. Who am I without that person? That identity? How has my life story changed forever?

I’ve mentored teen poets in shelters, detention centers, and through the Pongo website ( where we have writing activities like “Questions for an Empty Sky” and “This Is What You Meant to Me” that provide a format for teens (and adults) to create poetry about loss.

Activities can help jumpstart creativity, but writing from the heart is structure enough. At Pongo we routinely say that the only thing needed to write a good poem is honesty. It could be an interesting exercise for anyone to simply think about the shape-shifting quality of loss in their life and, simultaneously, the courage it takes to be honest with one’s self about that, without judgment.

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