What is the mysterious process by which one writes a poem? As we write, how do we uncover what is true, chipping away at all the other voices that may seem authentic, but might not be? It takes a certain amount of courage to believe that what we have to say is important. Perhaps we might need some support with this.

One of the strategies that I have discovered in my writing career is the power of writing with others. It seems illogical, but the best poems have usually come as I sit beside another individual (sometimes this is someone I consider a friend, oftentimes a stranger) in a circle, with others across from me… and the only sounds are the breathing in and out, and the stroking of pens on paper.

In thinking about the circle, Jung’s mandala comes to mind. Representing the wholeness of the Self, the mandala is a cosmic diagram reminding us of our relationship to the infinite, a plane that includes both our bodies and minds and what is beyond our physicality. The mandala describes both material and nonmaterial realities— the celestial circles of the earth, sun, and moon, as well as abstract circles of friends, family, and community.

So it is in this community, that full expression of our selves can be given. But in entrusting our words to others, care must be taken. That is why it’s necessary for a skilled facilitator to create a sacred space. As an experienced poetry teacher, I believe in the innate truth that each individual holds. And I believe that every time anyone sits down to write a poem we are all absolute beginners (what Zen practitioners call “beginner’s mind”) while at the same time we are an amalgamation of all that we have lived.

There is a palpable feeling of safety and comfort in the circle; we are all equal to the task of writing, and everyone is free to tell their story. This makes it easy and fun, as well as poignant and profound. Still a mystery — but the muse has come, once again, the poems are written.

It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that a mandala consists of five “excellencies” —the teacher, the message the audience, the site, and the time. The writing workshop contains each of these elements and promises to be an inspiring and affirming event.