Saturday, January 26, 2013

PROMPTING THE MUSE WITHIN…


At a recent poetry reading, “A Midwinter Night Poetry Reading” at A and E Gallery here in New Iberia, where I read alongside Julie Kane, Louisiana Poet Laureate and Lafayette poet Clare Martin, I met several new writers and editors who are promoting creative writing in the area. One of them, Jonathan Penton, is a poet and editor of “Unlikely Stories, Episode IV” an online literary journal and a coordinator of Acadiana Wordlab, “an uncensored weekly writing workshop” in Lafayette, Louisiana. I sat across from Jonathan at the dinner following the reading and was briefly introduced to the idea of Jonathan’s weekly literary drafting workshop in Lafayette.

I had no idea that I was being “auditioned,” for lack of a better word, but yesterday I received a message from Jonathan inviting me to be a February presenter at the Wordlab. The Lab requires no formal membership and serves as a space where people can gather every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to work on their writing craft at Cite’ des Arts in Lafayette. It focuses on art as a writing prompt, but the prompts aren’t confined to literary art – visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians have contributed to the work of the Lab.

The relaxing component of the Acadiana Wordlab is that it’s a drafting workshop, rather than a critique workshop. A presenter features a work of art, a lecture on the craft, or a discussion of art and then asks participants to respond by writing for twenty minutes or more. After writing, the participants read their creations aloud, and if time permits, the presenter makes a second prompt, followed by more writing and reading aloud.

I understand the process because about fifteen years ago, I formed and coordinated a writing group called “The Reflections,” an adult education class at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, Louisiana. At meetings in the “Upper Room” of the parish hall, I’d present a short lecture on a spiritual book, request members of the group to respond for twenty minutes, then to read their “reflections.” The results were amazing – illuminating quick sketches that I called the “feminine face of God” – spontaneous, poignant, strong and nurturing responses written in the spirit of both pathos and humor, which reflected the essence of the female soul. As I wrote in the chapbook, Meditations of My Heart, that we later produced, “they educated my own heart and enriched my spiritual journey.” Other members of the group said that the experience engendered the same responses in them.

Four members of the Reflections group of twelve participants went on to become authors of books: Margaret Simon, author of the young adult book, Blessen; Dr. Victoria Sullivan, author of the speculative fiction, Adoption and of the nature guide, Why Water Plants Don’t Drown; Mary Wyche Estes, author of Mending of the Heart and of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, 1875-1902; and Janet Faulk, author of Road Home, a collection of essays about growing up “southern.” One “Reflections “songstress has become an outstanding voice in the music group, “Blue Merlot,” and co-wrote, with Grammy Award winner “Bubba” Murrell, the lyrics and music for the recording “Women at the Well.” Folk artist Jean Wattigny continued her work as an artist of whimsical paintings for which she has gained regional recognition.

Here’s a passage I read from The School of Charity by Evelyn Underhill:”We too have our share in the creative process. We live and die within the workshop …accepted as pupils and partners with our first movement of generosity in action, prayer, or love…we, in our measure, are allowed to stand beside Him; making little things, contributing our action to His great action on life. So we must use the material of life faithfully, with a great sense of responsibility…”

And here’s Jean Wattigny’s response to that passage: “When we speak of creating, I think of the creative process as action – doing, not comparing. There is no creation without full emptiness – total immersion in the present moment. Looking back to see what should have been done and looking forward to see what we may have ahead of us makes us nothing in the Now. If we’re thinking too much about the painting when we’re mixing the colors, we’re ahead of the process – we’ll only have muddy colors. Creation is in the moment of doing and doing is God’s work, God’s way.”

I might add that my own writing catapulted ahead light years following this two-year experiment in prompting the Muse!

Cover drawing of Meditations of My Heart by Paul Schexnayder, renowned New Iberia artist.
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