Notes from Alison Ernst, Director of Adult Religious Education (DARE)
Beginning with a Family Stories workshop last spring, and with the addition of two creative writing sessions, in early summer, a dedicated cadre of UU members have been meeting virtually to write weekly. The writing workshops are facilitated using the principles and practices of the Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) method, based on the simple core belief that "every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft."
Each session begins with a reading of the philosophy and practices of the AWA method, which serves as a verbal chalice lighting of sorts, grounding participants in our purpose and the agreements we have with each other during our time together. We do a short writing warm up, to get our creative juices flowing. Then a more detailed prompt is offered for a longer writing session. Participants are encouraged to write whatever they want/need to, regardless of whatever prompt is offered that day. Next comes perhaps the most moving and learning inducing part of the session: reading of fresh fledgling work, and commenting that focuses on what is strong and successful. Focusing on what works in newly created writing teaches and encourages writers to tap into their unique voice and perspective. Critique certainly has its place in the writing process, but not in this setting.
Recently we used Mary Oliver's well known poem Wild Geese as a writing prompt. Inspired by the line "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves", one of the workshop members created the following (printed with permission):
The Soft Animal Parts
The Soft Animal of my body - the warmest, most authentic part. Not the part inside my hard skull. Not my busy twitchy boney hands.
The soft animal part that longs to draw a baby close for naptime. The part that yips and hides in a hidden den when predators are afoot. The part that seeks survival above all else.
The Animal lying in wait. Composed, confident. With an uncomplicated understanding of life. Where are the best soft grasses? The dark fortified cavities within brush piles that you can move right into? Needs: few, comforts: simple, standards: low. The safest way for a soft-bodied animal to live.
But should I grow a tough hide? Stand upright? Think more about my carbon footprint? Finish my degree work? Diversify my investments? Plan my days more carefully?
No, I think I will remain a soft animal, with soft animal parts. As I was born, so shall I die.
-The Northwoods Writrix
Watch the Flash for posting about dates and times for this tentative lineup of writing workshops for the fall:
- Creative Writing
- Critiquing 101 (for previous workshop participants)
- Family Stories
- Writing Whiteness