There is ongoing dialogue regarding the relative efficacy of academic versus more experiential approaches to developing the creative process. And I would like to go on record as one who is bursting with gratitude for alternative methods of learning. I learned Rebalancing bodywork with my entire body – our daily practice included both giving and receiving the treatment session of the day, which enabled us to learn the work from the inside out.

And this is also how I  have learned to write. Learning by doing. But I think it’s a rare individual who can learn without being taught. It’s the how of  the teaching which makes all the difference. A teaching method which encourages rather than criticizes is the one that has kept me writing.

A few years ago I listened to someone who was well-educated in literary theory and criticism, but I found that when I attempted to write from that perspective I shut right down. It was too daunting and my writing was stiff and forced. My chosen teachers have been those who encouraged, reported back to me what was strong; what worked in my pieces. The argument of my learned friend was that the writing then becomes a service only to the ego; one searches for praise and gratification. I won’t argue that this is entirely false. Of course, our little egos want to feel we’ve done something brilliant! But the larger service is that pointing out what works helps one’s shaky little ego believe that it can in fact write something worthwhile; something meaningful, and it keeps one writing. 

I’m writing this post because last weekend I participated in a “Freefall” retreat with Barbara Turner-Vesselago and experienced an epiphany. As I wrote those three intense mornings I was aware of employing myriad elements of craft as I also allowed myself to follow the energy into the unexpected. It was at the same time rooted and transcendent. Each morning I wrote for four hours, after which I had to go outside, run, walk, swim in order to return to “normal”.  I had ‘nailed’ the scenes in ways I had never experienced. I was elated and stayed high for days afterward. It’s as if I’ve broken through a membrane I didn’t even know existed.

I am so grateful to my teachers and mentors: Sue Reynolds, Barbara Turner-Vesselago, Pat Schneider, Donna Morrissey, and to Ruth Walker and Sherry Coman who have all in their unique ways encouraged, guided, supported, and never ever criticized.

Recently I hosted a writing retreat at my beautiful home by the river. There were fourteen writers and lovers of writing led in this encouraging and supportive way by the gracious Sue Reynolds. At the end of the three days I put together a poem culled from phrases and words that had stayed with me from the pens of these brave people. It is, in a way, a found poem. We went around the circle reading a few lines each, and discovered that our collective voice was a beautiful thing to hear.

Here it is:


This is how it happens – an evening, the day after and words linger in the air long after they’re spoken, settle in the ears, drift into the heart, bearing with them the speaker, the writer, the ‘narrator’

Words such as:

Beyond thinking, attaching words to flyaway thoughts,

Wanting to wail but weighted down

Green seeping then floating, gold light and rainbows,

Crow mother help me, jagged edges of broken shell, zig within the zag

A pink hat with a tractor logo, the sound of farts and car tires

Sand in patches the shapes of animals

Sun pulling diamonds from rock

Where the waves fit

And canoeing down Main Street

Unconditional love wrapped in 8 pounds of flesh

Don’t know whether to fly or fall,

Write like me, accept my voice

And flags wave cheering

We hear the word constellate again and picture words like stars

The rhyme of chapter and rapture and

having the courage to break my own rule

playing my hand

last card

You are not alone, you are YOU

A shadow searching for a body

A man with one foot on rock, the other steadying the rocking boat

And zombies who hate poems

The congregation of my laughter –

What are you asking me?

Sunflower will you kiss me

Just once today

The universe between my thighs

I am you

Siphon your laughter

Fuels my faith

I cannot travel with you

Let me leave something beautiful in this world

Those eyelashes, their dark fringe


Sitting someplace quiet and quiet myself

White flash of a bird’s wing uplifted and illuminated

Hostas become garden umbrellas

For the fairies

How could I not know their names?

Arms flung wide to catch me

The current underneath and punk trout

A house that sighed

A finger resting in a curled fist

Golf channel 416

Dick’s sporting goods

Humblest hacker

The swing that is YOUR sacred swing

This is YOU they tinker with

Smart girls are worth waiting for

Soft ones that smell good

They should have never met,

That turtle and gazelle

Tapping around the edges

An ending in both hands

Held long enough to feel its fragile bones cracking

Reeds and rushes woven baskets that sprouted laughter

As if there is a right time to step into your time

Household appliances shouldn’t be personal gifts

The green taste of watercress

A drunken mapmaker

The relief that the address is the wrong address

No recuperation

Her cold hand that still warms my heart

Light falling through the window

Cheek to bark

Wind cheering in the ears

A pen that leaked ink, an electric force

Sweet sweet abyss

Puberty in search of me

Imprinting be damned

Tiny coffins gladiator style from ankles to knees

A boran shaking Celtic bones

Earnest ants carrying story

Horses living on the sixth floor

Suckling mother wolf

Liquid heroin

Red Rose figurines, Noah’s ark  animals on shelves and counters,

A cat found under a bag of apples

Books bursting through an oven door

How a glass holds light

Being held in her gray gaze

Held is just a word.

Word flash to blank mind

Pen poised I wait and wait and wait

Did I once hold your focus?

Tethered to pink granite

A pebble in the shoe

A pile of shoes keeping the door from crashing,

The bitch-face’s purring car

The ex-bastard’s eyes

And the first time he doesn’t argue

The smell of dry-roasted cumin

A patina formed from 20 years of living

A single claw in an ear

Without drawing blood

A not fat cat

Who needs reassurance

Frantic jazz

An acrobat about to perform

Desert sun white light of the afterlife the eye of god


One body dividing into two

A panel made soft by eggplants

Sexy vegetables knowing no pain

A river that runs under everything,



A stone fence like stitching

A streak of red in dark hair

A self-professed bi sexual

Me walking toward you

The tinkling snore of a muse

A small man in a wool cap singing in gaelic

Fiddle music over Parliament street

Never feel that tickle in my heart

Or the giggle in my throat

Believing the heart would get him

And not the cancer

A hand on cold back, a breath, gratitude

The rhymes that rhyme themselves

A time out of time

With a dying woman

Hotwheels on white sand icing

A lone birdie in the cut down tree

Wind chimes and saxophone a golden fence



And that damn pony

At the beginning of the journey

The river that flows below its still surface

Sex is not the objective

Having fun is sexy

That’s how it happens –

You show up, take up your pens and begin…

Those are the words

And these are the hearts

That birthed those words

And to these hearts who’ve shared my home, my river

My Sebright Sebright where writers write

I bow

Thank you thank you

Thank you

by: Sue Reynolds, John Oelrichs, Terry Richards, Margaret Hefferman, Gail Cunningham, Esther Griffin, Theresa Dekker, Stephanie Curry, Clare Bolton, Janis McCallen, Suzanne Robinson, Sharon Arnaud, James Dewar