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,


How do I find my authentic voice?

How do I find my authentic voice?

How do I find my most authentic voice? Many writers and artists ask this question. Yet, perhaps there really isn’t just one voice.

Questions of voice trouble writers and artists throughout their creative lives, as each creative project may ask for a new voice, a new expression, and as we grow in our creative desires and pursuits.

In my own writing I am grappling with questions of voice these days. I thought I’d share what’s coming up for me.

The Questions That Won’t Let Me Be

How can I merge the voice of the poet, mystic, priestess, firekeeper in me, the daring, inventive artist who loves brilliance, dazzle and leaps of imagination, with the voice of the teacher, guide, muse, friend I have used so often in this Creative Sparks blog/e-news?

How can I speak from all of who I am here and all of what I have to share—my questions and my answers, my fear and my courage, my doubt and my faith?

How do I honor the mystery, the not knowing, that fertile darkness I love so much? Could I write from not knowing instead of from authority and would anyone want to hear? Can you be an “author” without “authority”?

Can I write from the mystery and be met there?

Where are the sisters and brothers of soul who long for poetry, magic, spell-casting and how do I find them?

What if I no longer tried to prove, persuade, convince, be liked, be acceptable? What if I no longer sought to please or to hide or be so darn useful? In my poems I don’t do any of this.

The Voice of My Poems vs. The Voice of Creative Sparks

In my poems (and poetic essays) I write from the deepest parts of myself and my connection with Life. I write the truest words I know. I write the most beautiful, eloquent, finely-crafted words I can find to meet what I am writing about. I work to make a piece of art. In my poems I am challenging, raw, metaphorical, mystical, imaginative, and most of all, lyrical. 

But something different happens when I sit down to impart some knowledge or experience that I believe to be helpful in these Creative Sparks essays. My focus is on clarity, helpfulness, brevity, a certain simplicity, inspiration, encouragement. My focus is on you.

Now I begin to question that voice as I seek to find a voice that is closer to my poet self, closer to home, and yet still in service to what I perceive the needs and desires of my readers here to be. Creative Sparks is a different endeavor than my poems, so the voices will never be identical. Even in my poems, there are different voices. Yet. . .

Can I share my poetry, artistry and self more and still be in service to the “how” and “why” and “what” of the creative life, the path of heart, the process of bringing our heart’s dreams to life?

The Sanctuary of a Notebook

writing in journal

by miller mountain man c 123rf

I sit in my studio on a rainy morning and write in my notebook, one of so many I have filled over the years. My notebooks are sanctuary, a place of wholeness and welcome where I can say and be anything.

In my notebooks I stand in the open space and try on my hats, my selves, my wounds and wholeness, my fear and rage and wisdom. And I don’t have to shelter or protect, hide or dumb down, any of it. I can scream and cry, rend my clothes, be crazy, wild, dance on the page. I can be messy, be brilliant, experiment, fail, succeed gloriously.

And when I’m done, I close the covers on a privacy absolute, unless I choose to share from it. This is profound sanity and blessing for me. In the sacred aloneness of my notebooks I find release, healing, self-knowing, wisdom, beauty, freedom, grace.

How can I share more of that with you? Honoring my privacy yet also willing to show up whole and multi-dimensional, shadow and light, complex and real.

My Questions For You

Would you want to read that?

This essay is an example of bringing my poet self more to the fore and I’ve been experimenting with that some lately here. It is written more from that place of heart, honesty, vulnerability, lyricism.

Is it welcome? Do you want more of this?

  • What is it you are longing for, most hungry for, most in need of as a reader?
  • What do you come to Creative Sparks for?
  • What do you desire more or less of?
  • What have you enjoyed most, found most valuable in my posts?

I’d really love to hear because this is all new for me and quite vulnerable. Would you post your responses here, or if you are too shy to do that, email me?

To your own true voice,


Give Voice to Your Own Astonishment

Give Voice to Your Own Astonishment

Pearls from the Colrain Poetry Conference

I am just back from the Colrain Poetry Conference, this one held in Truchas, New Mexico. The conference is unique among poetry workshops in that it is an intensive weekend devoted to honing a manuscript of poems as a whole, rather than working on individual poems.

Two teachers and two editors of poetry presses lead the workshops. The conference is open to a maximum of 14 participants. We had ten in our group, and then were divided into groups of five each day to work on the manuscripts.

We stayed together in a big, beautiful, adobe house in a remote village at 8,000 feet in the mountains outside of Santa Fe. High desert ringed by the dramatic Truchas Peaks, incredible sense of deep quiet and the magic New Mexico is known for.

The days are long. We started at 9:00 a.m. and went until 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. each day, starting Friday evening and ending with a session Monday morning. By the end of each day, my head felt like it would explode from taking in so much.

The experience was wonderful—encouraging, inspiring, enlightening, humbling (in a good way). I learned so much, and I came home eager to dive into my manuscript again with new eyes and ears.

I’ll share a little of what I learned here.


Truchas Peaks in the distanceHow poetry editors read a manuscript

The over-riding lesson is your poetry manuscript must be deeply cohesive as a singular work and not simply a collection of wonderful poems. It was thrilling to witness how deeply the editors engage with every aspect of the manuscript, and they expect all of those aspects to make sense to the book as a whole.

The editors began by looking at the title and the table of contents as a map of the terrain of the manuscript—what the key themes, preoccupations, voices of the book will be, what the through-line or arc will be, how that line rises and falls throughout the manuscript, creating interest.

After looking at the title and table of contents, the editors thumbed through the manuscript, looking at the various forms used on the page, the use of white space, the visual effect of the poems, independent of content, and what that might suggest. In other words, they looked at how the poems looked without reading them initially. Are there poems in couplets, poems in a singular small block, ones that use white space inventively, ones with long lines, short lines? Do these forms recur? They look for both a variety of forms and a repetition of similar forms threaded throughout to give the book interest and coherence.

Then the editors read the first few poems in depth, looking to those poems as a guide to the book as a whole, how to read this poet, what the themes will be, what the voice(s) will be, what the approach will be. Those first poems need to be stellar and significant to the book’s themes. Many editors will read the first five poems, and if those poems don’t totally knock their socks off, they won’t read further. Often, they will turn to the final poem, as well.

These editors then read one or more poems from the middle of the manuscript, choosing those poems based on titles that intrigued them and/or titles that seemed important to the themes of the book or poems that were visually interesting on the page. And then they read the last poem of the book, which needs to both be a really stellar poem and one that works as a summation or final statement for this collection.


dandelion seedsLittle pearls to make your poetry book gleam

  • Every poem must be very strong, edited to its finest, and any weaker poems removed or any that don’t fit with this manuscript’s themes, voices and preoccupations. A leaner manuscript is definitely preferred to a longer one.
  • If you have many poems on the same theme—say about your mother’s death—each poem needs to approach the topic differently and arrive at a different place. Otherwise, choose only a few to include and sprinkle them through the manuscript, rather than place them one after another.
  • One teacher gave an example of a manuscript (not one at the conference) that was full of one fantastic poem after another, but they all progressed in the same way—thesis, exposition, epiphany—and had a similar form. The book didn’t work as a whole because there wasn’t enough variety. One editor said what she looks for is a “constellation of difference”—constellation suggests the poems belong together, but difference means there are various stars orbiting in the same galaxy.
  • Ask of each poem why it belongs in the manuscript and what it is doing there. What is this poem’s relationship to the title? What are the ambitions of these poems together?
  • Form is as important as content. Formal decisions are as important as content decisions.
  • The titles provide a map to the manuscript. Be careful of titles the feel pedestrian—will they draw the reader in?
  • Let the image do the work. Cut away explanation that is already inferred in the image. Trust your readers.
  • Always submit poems in PDF form, not in a Word doc, as formatting can get wonky.
  • Watch out for glosses rather than specifics, not “aging parents” but “my father’s arthritic hands gripping the bed rail.”
  • Once a voice is established, it sets the bar for the rest of the manuscript, and editors look for that voice and quality throughout. Voice combines who is speaking, how are they speaking, and who are you speaking to?
  • When writing about the natural world, locate the reader in a specific, particular place—not just any tree or river.
  • What’s at stake for the poet/speaker in these poems? One editor stressed the need to see the poet’s culpability in the topics being addressed, to see self-criticism, if there is criticism of our world, and in general to see the speaker’s vulnerability and responsibility. For instance, I write a lot about the limitations of language to describe experience. She said she wanted to read how language has failed me specifically.
  • Keep a rubble pile, a file of lines you love that you have had to cut from your poems (to make the poems stronger) to draw from for new poems.

And finally, a wonderful quote that was shared with us from Annie Dillard (from her essay, “Write Till You Drop”:

“You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”


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