Create an Ode

Create an Ode

Get your imagination sizzling with this creativity prompt to create an ode.

In this post I walk you through Ellen Bass’ lovely poem Ode to the First Peach. I show you what makes the poem sing and how to create your own ode in any art form you choose.

This prompt is not just for writers. Although I will talk about principles of good writing here, I will also share ideas of how to translate these principles to other art forms.

Whether in writing, painting, dance, sculpture, photography or some other medium, I invite you to craft an ode.

First, let’s look at what an ode is and how we might make one that really shines.

Read Ellen Bass’ Ode to the First Peach here.

The Marriage of Content and Form

Notice how the poem is juicy with language in the way a peach is overabundant in its sweetness and deliciousness. This poem positively spurts with rich, vibrant language. The language matches the subject.

If Ellen Bass were describing a prison cell, the language would need to be colder and harder. Reading this poem provides a rich pleasure like eating a ripe peach.

What Is an Ode?

An ode is an homage, a poem of praise to a specific person, place or thing. Like a letter of appreciation to that thing.

Typically, the ode addresses the thing being praised directly, speaking not just about it but to it. Such as starting with, “O beautiful ____”. Ellen Bass’ poem does not address the peach directly, but it’s still very much an ode.

Let’s look closer at her ode and see what we can discover to inspire and inform our own creations.

By doing this, we will learn how to approach a work of art to glean both information and inspiration. We will gather information about what is strong and effective. We’ll also harvest inspiration to create our own beautiful and true work.

Choose Verbs That Tremble With Aliveness

I start by looking at the verbs, because exciting verbs are so vital to vivid, effective language.

One of the first things you can do to improve a piece of writing is to go back and look at your verbs. See where you might change the verbs to more specific, accurate, alive ones—not speak but whisper, not run but gallop, not laugh but chortle.

Of course, like all things, this can be overdone, and you need to consider the style and tone of the piece when choosing your verbs. However, a well chosen verb can do a great deal of good work for a piece of writing.

Here are all of the verbs in Ellen Bass’ ode:

feasted, plugs, severed, shines, silvered, darken, turn, imagine, be, reflected, becomes, shoots, ravished, were, fallen, dreamed, curried, remaking.

Notice how she only uses the word “to be” twice. Most of the verbs she chooses shiver with life.

If you aren’t a writer: What is the equivalent of a verb in your medium? What propels the action, brings movement and energy? Is it a fast run of notes in music? Is it bright colors in painting? Or perhaps a specific verb like “shiver” instead of “was cold” is equivalent to a subtle blending of colors instead of using a primary hue. You decide and then examine your use of that element.

Use Adjectives (and Adverbs) With Care

Next let’s look at the adjectives.

Adjectives need to be used with care. Too many adjectives begin to cancel each other out. And they can make the writing feel overburdened, cumbersome.

Yet a well-chosen adjective can bring something radiantly to life for the reader.

Notice how sparingly Ellen Bass uses adjectives in this poem, which nonetheless achieves a lushness. Most of the nouns in the poem stand alone without an adjective to define them. They don’t need an adjective because the nouns themselves are so well-chosen and vibrant. We’ll look at them in a moment.

Here are the adjectives in this poem:

one, clear, next, golden, heavier, sudden, dense, first, lustrous, silent, swollen, clefted, flaming.

Look how wonderful and apt the adjectives are for their subject, the peach. And at the same time how vivid they are as words, not just “round” or “orange,” but “clefted” and “lustrous.” The adjectives not only have specificity but also feel good in the mouth to say. And we feel them in our bodies.

If you aren’t a writer: An adjective is something that modifies or describes a noun. If the noun is the subject matter of your piece, what might be the equivalent of an adjective? In a dance piece, it might be a gesture of the hand or a bend of the head that modifies the larger movement and gives it a particular flavor. In music, it might be an ornament, a trill, a bend of a note or distortion.

Be Specific With Your Nouns

Now let’s consider the nouns.

Here they are:

insect, stub, resin, scar, hollow, stem, juice, fur, caul, minute, hairs, palm, flesh, weight, newborn, marriage, citron, blush, planet, hall, mirrors, swan, fairy, sky, dawn, beginning, world, pith, stars, coins, pockets, night, chaos, scent, morning, sugar, bruise, hunger, life, remnant, ripeness.

What an extraordinary collection of nouns!

Some of them are concrete descriptions of aspects of a peach, such as stem, scar, juice, scent.

But many of them are imaginative metaphors to help us appreciate the peach in a new light. Metaphors can work magic in a poem.

If you aren’t a writer: The nouns are the nuts and bolts of your piece, its subject matter or foundational elements—a key phrase in a dance piece, perhaps, or a musical theme.

You might think of the nouns as the building blocks of the piece, the verbs as what connects and gives momentum to those building blocks, and the adjectives as flourishes or ornaments that add nuance.

In whatever medium you are working in, make sure your “nouns” are strong and apt, as vivid and right as they can be for the piece.

And what about using metaphor, likening one thing to another to help us experience your subject in a richer or new way?

Create Your Own Ode

Now that we have gathered this information about what makes this poem come alive, let’s use it for inspiration to create our own ode.

1. Choose a subject for your ode, something you wish to praise. It could be something you love, but it could also be something difficult, which you will use your ode to learn to appreciate. For instance, I recently wrote an ode to frustration.

2. Start by free-associating a list of lively verbs, nouns and adjectives, or phrases combining them, to describe the subject of your ode. Include startling, original metaphors.

You might also make notes of memories of your subject, details of the specific pleasures it has brought to you.

3. Now choose the best of these to begin making a first draft of an ode. Or start by just allowing yourself to play freely with the subject and see what arises.

Let yourself experiment. Be wild, inventive, playful. Odes often are. Or be melodramatic, over-the-top in your exaltation of this thing. Discover the voice that is suited to your subject.

Don’t try to be perfect in the first draft. That kills creativity. Just get some ideas on paper or in your medium-of-choice.

If you aren’t a writer: Even if you are working in a non-verbal medium, such as dance or painting, you can still begin by writing out images, associations and metaphors to more fully delve into your subject. You can also begin by deciding key elements of your piece—musical or dance phrases, color palette and so on.

Refine and Revise

Then, go back, refine, revise, hone.

If you are writing, look at every verb. Can any be strengthened?

Look at every adjective. Can any be removed and the line will be as strong or stronger? Can any adjectives be replaced by using a more vital, specific noun instead?

Look at your nouns. Are they the most dynamic and apt ones to meet your subject? Have you used metaphor to bring your subject more vividly to life and to bring delight and surprise to the reader?

If you are making an ode with dance, how could you use non-representational movement to create an ode to a peach, for instance? Instead of showing someone eating a peach, how could you suggest the ecstasy, sweetness, surprise of biting into a ripe peach? How could you metaphorically depict the juice running down your face or the slow ripening to colors of sunset?

If you are writing music, how could the notes reflect the burnished quality of a peach, the lushness?

If you are painting, what in the painting, in the background perhaps or the colors or textures, leads us to experience the subject in a new and deeper way? What is it you most wish to communicate about this subject to the viewer? Perhaps the painting is non-representational but takes us to a place of feeling the subject.

Let yourself have fun with making an ode.

Perhaps you would like to give yourself the project of making a series of odes on different subjects. Odes engage our senses, our gratitude, our imagination.

To get more ideas about wild and wonderful odes, check out Pablo Neruda’s odes. Here’s my favorite of those: Ode to My Socks

What are you inspired to make an ode about now? Begin making some notes.

We Need the Voices of All the Artists

We Need the Voices of All the Artists

“We need the voices of all the poets,” Robert Duncan wrote. This has long been a credo of mine.

Yet, I have to remind myself of it. Especially when I’m feeling “not good enough” as a poet.

At times like those, I can start to feel “What’s the use? Who needs my poems anyway?” There are so many poets writing today and too few readers. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.

When we are feeling this way, we have lost sight of a vital truth, a truth we may not have been told when we were young, but one that is essential to living ongoing, joyful, creative lives:

by Elena Ray on Unsplash

Your Artistic Voice Is Unique

You have something to say. Your voice, perspective and experience are unique. There has never been another you in all of time. You have unique gifts that the world needs. You have something of value to share. Or you wouldn’t be here.

You wouldn’t have an urge to write or paint or dance, if someone didn’t need what you are creating. Or if we didn’t need the self you will become through the act of creating. Because creating transforms us in powerful ways.

You Still Have to Work to Refine Your Art

Just because you are unique and needed here doesn’t mean you can be lazy about your art.

Man drawing

by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

You owe it to your art and your audience to hone your work to its finest expression. To play hard at it. To not be self-satisfied with half-measures and sloppiness. To wrestle with your art. To stretch and challenge yourself. To study and learn.

Devote yourself to the deep study of your craft, the work of other artists, the history of your art form. Work with teachers, mentors and peers to refine your technique and expression.

I believe in working devotedly at your chosen art form, if you wish to share your work with others beyond a few friends and family.

If you wish to develop as an artist, then you are choosing to serve not only yourself and your own ambitions, but a larger purpose, to serve your people, to serve Life, to serve the Divine.

You are agreeing to step beyond mere “self-expression” and your own desires into a greater realm of service, surrender, mystery.

Welcome. You have chosen a great path, or rather it has chosen you.

That path will challenge you and ask much of you. Some days it will bring you to your knees in despair, doubt or disappointment. It will also grace you with support, synchronicities and blessings.

Creative Hobbies Are Also Wonderful

Don’t get me wrong: The act of creation is meant to be divine play, not joyless, nose-to-the-grindstone work.

Allowing ourselves to have creative hobbies, for which we have no ambition, but simply allow ourselves to play, to create for the joy of creating, is an enormously healthy, wonderful gift to ourselves and our world.

Creative play makes us happier, sweeter, more alive people. It brings more fun and grace to our lives. It makes us more adaptable, responsive and imaginative. These are all great goods. Worthy in and of themselves.

So let yourself make messes, experiment and just play with art too. Let yourself dabble in art forms you don’t wish to master.

Go Forth and Create!

Whatever road you choose, to simply play and have fun (as I do with collage) or to devote yourself to an art form in service to a higher calling (as I do with poetry and writing), bless you.

We need the voices of all the artists.

To your abundant creativity,


My Deep Why

My Deep Why

Last week I sent you a beautiful, inspiring, 10-minute exercise to discover your “deep why,” what you are here on earth for, what you’re all about.

This process is a way to tap your deep heart-knowing of what lights you up, inspires and moves you, what matters deeply to your heart and soul.

One student asked me: Why bother asking these questions? Why bother doing these exercises?

Because this is your guidestar to creating a deeply fulfilling, soulful life. A life that matters to you and makes a difference to others. A life of joy.

Practices like this one tune you into listening to your deep heart wisdom, your heartsong, so you can steer your life by that song. To me, nothing could be more important.

If you missed that post, you can read it here and try the exercise yourself. It’s fun and easy. It takes only 10 minutes. And it just may astound you!

Last week I promised to share with you what I got when I did the practice myself. Here it is, off the cuff, unedited:  My deep why, what I’m here for.

I, Maxima, Am Here To. . .

I am here to write, to be creative, to celebrate and honor life, to care, to live from heart, to give and share.

I am here to have joy and spread joy, to love, to be playful and silly, to heal, to grow, to play, to be in wonder, to touch and be touched, to dwell in grace.

I am here to be an artist, to make beauty and magic, to dance, create, sing and make music, to imagine.

I am here to praise God, Goddess, Divine, One, and embody that, dance with that.

I am here to tend to the beauty of the world, to care for growing things, to walk the path of Heart, to walk in the footsteps of the Divine, to honor the Sacred in others and in all things and call it forth, to conduct ritual, ceremony, to be a leader, a healer, a magician, a teacher, a lover, a mystic, a muse.

I am here to give thanks for the creation and work to mend the tears and injustices. I am here to gather the divine sparks.

I am here with my love, my vulnerability, my heart, my spirit and spark and light and fire. I am here to not be ashamed, to love and be loved, to stand in the light and the darkness, to love it all.

I am here to listen to the wind and the ocean, the rocks, trees, birds, streams, animals, plants, to sing their songs.

I am here to elevate, to inspire, to make music, magic, art, song, to be one with the One, to come home, to belong, to help others belong. To believe, dream and reach for the stars.


It’s empowering to know your Deep Why, to stand in it, to proclaim it and live it.

Share some of your Deep Why in the comments below. And/or share what comes up for you as you read this. Let’s inspire one another!

Why the Heck Am I Here?

Why the Heck Am I Here?

In this post, I share a fun and inspiring practice to help you discover your “life purpose” by tapping into your own deep wisdom and intuitive knowing.

That way, you can live in alignment with that which brings you deepest meaning, joy and fulfillment in your life. Sound good?

Let’s begin.

I Am Here To

  1. Get a pen and paper. (Many studies have shown, writing long-hand is way more beneficial and powerful than typing on a computer. Writing by hand connects you to your heart and body wisdom in a way that typing on a keyboard cannot. If you are physically able to do so, I strongly recommend you do this practice by hand.)
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. Start with the words “I am here to.”
  4. Write everything and anything that comes to your mind in response to those words. Keep returning again and again to “I am here to” to begin many of your sentences.Some ways you may interpret the question include (but are not limited to):
    • What are you here on earth for? Why did you come?
    • What is your life purpose, your passion?
    • What are your gifts?
    • What do you love?
    • What matters to you? What do you stand for?
    • What can you give with joy? What do you already give?
    • What do you want your life to be about?
  5. Keep your pen moving as you write in response to the words. Don’t pause to think, plan, question or edit. Don’t worry whether what you are writing is accurate, true or complete. Don’t worry if it’s nonsense. Don’t worry if it’s terrible writing or great writing or whether you’ve wandered too far afield. Just write. Let it all flow out.

Write From Your Heart

Young child with airplaneGive yourself permission to be grandiose, to dream, imagine, play on the page. To say what you think you’re not allowed to say. To speak with authority and wisdom, humor and grace and heart. Resist the urge to belittle yourself, to say “I don’t know.” What if you did know?

If you have more to say than 10 minutes, keep going. If you think you have said everything before 10 minutes is up, keep going until the timer sounds, even if you have to repeat yourself. Let yourself be surprised by what else comes when you think you’ve said it all.

If there’s something you write that you find helpful or inspiring, you might want to post it where you can read it from time to time and remember why you are here.

I’d love to hear your responses to this practice. Post in the comments here.

Next week I’ll share some of what I wrote when I did this exercise.

To your shining being,


To read more on the topic of “life purpose” and finding your unique brilliance, start here.

Hey, if what you read here inspires, helps or moves you, consider sharing it with others using the share buttons here.

Inspiration for your creative fire

Inspiration for your creative fire

Today I share with you a garland of inspiration to feed your creative fires. You’ll find here 7 of my favorite posts that I shared on my Brilliant Playground Facebook page this past month. May these help you bring more singing, dancing, writing, creating, dreaming, and playing into your life.

I share inspirations, tools, tips and tidbits from my life on my Brilliant Facebook page daily (pretty much). If you’d like to have some inspiration and joy in your news feed, follow these three easy steps:

1) Like my page by clicking here:
2) Click “Following” in the menu bar near the top of the page, and in the drop down, choose “See first” and make sure Notifications is set to “on.”
3) Be sure to like, share and comment on the posts.

That way they’ll keep appearing in your News Feed to brighten your day and light your creative fire.

Here’s your garland of inspiration—enjoy!

1. A poetry prompt in honor of National Poetry Month for all you poets and writers or anyone who wants to try their hand at creative writing.“Ode to Okra by Kevin Young”

2. is a treasure chest of wonderful quotes from interesting people. Here’s a quote from their site to help free you from the grip of perfectionism and take action toward your heart’s dreams.

3. I love to sing! This article explains why singing is such a pleasurable way to spend time with others, and what singing together can do for us and our world. “The Neuroscience of Singing”

4. We all pursue happiness. But happiness without meaning attached can be empty. This interview with writer, Emily Esfahani Smith reveals the underlying joy that helps us tell our story. “Why the Pursuit of Happiness Should Really be the Pursuit of Meaning”

5. “Reclaiming Raasleela — the playfulness of life” An Indian sect has reclaimed an ancient ritual that incorporates dance, poetry and playfulness as an act of deep healing. “Rasleela is played, not performed.”

6. One of my quotes that I think forms the basis of much of what I teach, about where our innate creativity draws its energy from.

7. Steven Pressfield’s blog is one of the few I follow and read religiously. He’s the author of a great book about overcoming resistance to creating called “The War of Art” and a brilliant and deeply heart-centered writer on the creative process. I loved this post of his: “Working on Two Tracks”



Enchanted Seattle and the Power of the Extended Artist Date

Enchanted Seattle and the Power of the Extended Artist Date

A week ago, I spent three days in Seattle on what turned out to be an extended artist date. My husband was teaching a two-day program there, so I had the city to explore by myself for two days and then a third day to play there with him.

I was completely enchanted by the city:

  • how green and full of trees and plants it is everywhere, full of beautiful parks to stroll in,
  • full of art, public art everywhere, galleries, theaters, great bookstores, concert halls, museums, and creative happenings,
  • full of cafés, each with its own unique flavor from elegant Parisian to Seattle grunge,
  • delicious chocolatiers, fabulous restaurants of all kinds,
  • public squares with spring-green chairs to sit on and trees branching overhead,
  • beauty and vibrant life, energy, dynamism, creative, unconventional people,
  • and good public transportation.

I was in delight, wandering the city streets, exploring, discovering, following my nose wherever I wanted to go. And, Seattle rewarded me with so much beauty, inspiration, wonder, and good food. Synchronicities abounded to encourage me in my creativity:

  • 2016-10-30-13-51-20sm wonderful, inspiring books on poetry, writing, and artful living found at the Elliott Bay bookstore,
  • a beautiful, astonishingly-right-for-me poem about my name written on the spot for me by a street person, and the moment of soulful connection we shared over it,
  • a show of original art by Miro, Picasso, Chagall, Renoir and others from the Surrealist and early Abstract Expressionist days at a gallery I stumbled on and had all to myself, where I stood agape at the beauty, inspiration, expression and learned important things about my own art-making.

I was lit up.

Even the weird parts—wandering the deserted downtown on Saturday night to get from the light rail to the market to try to find a restaurant that wasn’t full, wandering the surreal back side of the market, up and down steep flights of stairs, oddly void of people except sleeping forms on the street, through the closed-up shops of the market, a landscape straight out of my dream life—where is everybody?—until at last we came upon a little French restaurant tucked away, that Don recognized from earlier visits, and miraculously found a table waiting for us and a scrumptious meal in the crowded, loud, tiny restaurant overlooking the water.


Curious George, my mascot, has sipping chocolate

All of it served to fill me with new images, sensations, impressions, ideas, to open up my five senses so that everything began to look beautiful and vibrant: my backpack on the seat of the train next to me, the reflection in puddles in the gutters, one dried leaf on the brick sidewalk.

The Extended Artist Date

It was one long, extended Artist Date, a date with my artist self in which I let her lead the way. The Artist Date is a concept from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It is a date you take with yourself alone to do something to inspire, nourish, fill your artistic self. The Artist Date reinvigorates our creativity and ensures that we keep our well filled, so that we have inspiration to draw from when we return to the studio to make our art.

The extended Artist Date, whether it is a day-long excursion, a week in a cabin in the mountains, or a month in a foreign country, is a chance to drop deeply into that artistic self, that creative way of seeing the world and interacting with it, and to listen deeply to what our creative self needs for its nourishment. The extended Artist Date allows us to replenish the depleted storehouses within and reconnect with what truly delights, inspires, intrigues, informs us. The extended Artist Date helps us reawaken, become more alive, and remember or discover who we are, what matters to us, what calls to us.

Chihuly Glass Museum, a must see

Chihuly Glass Museum, a must see

The extended Artist Date also gives us a chance to open to surprise and synchronicity—very important in an ongoing artistic life. Whereas in a shorter Artist Date, we may plan to go to a concert or take a walk in the woods near our house, in an extended Artist Date we are able to explore, discover, follow our whims, not know what all we are going to do, see and experience, but rather open ourselves up to the unknown, the unplanned, to the world in all its wonder, difficulty and grace. And be rewarded by our Muse and the muses of the world.

I encourage you to plan (and take!) an extended Artist Date sometime in the coming month or two. You will need to actually put it in your calendar ahead of time, otherwise other things will tend to always get in the way. Give yourself a full day (or more if you can) to go somewhere that calls to you—the ocean, a city or particular part of the city you want to explore, for a long drive in the mountains.

Pioneer Square, SeattleIt doesn’t have to be expensive. I once had a wonderful Artist Date, spending the day in Sacramento, going to the used record store and bookstore, wandering around window-shopping, writing in my journal in a café, going into galleries and just enjoying the life on the street.

But go alone—it is only when we are alone that we can really deeply tune into ourselves, our own impulses and desires, follow our own rhythms and needs, and listen to the still, small voice within. Let yourself be fully immersed in your environment and follow your inclinations where they want to lead you. Open up your senses and let yourself be nourished by what calls to you. Don’t overthink it. Just follow your heart.

Take out your calendar now and plan it!

To your artistic replenishment,


P.S. To see some more of my photos of Seattle, visit our Facebook page:

Come see me dance!

This Saturday, November 12 at 7 pm, I will be performing a new dance-theater piece, called Boundaries and Borders (and Baggage), which I co-created with two friends, Juliet Lin and Amber Cone. We are performing at the Harvest Moon Dance concert at the Odd Fellows Hall in Nevada City, CA.

Organized by the Nevada County Dance Collective, the evening will feature the work of many choreographers and dancers in a variety of styles. $12. Come join us! For more information:

In my next post, I’ll share a bit about the process of creating the piece we are performing.


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