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The Muses Among Us

Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft

Kim Stafford

Publication Year: 2003

The Muses Among Us is an inviting, encouraging book for writers at any stage of their development. In a series of first-person letters, essays, manifestos, and notes to the reader, Kim Stafford shows what might happen at the creative boundary he calls "what we almost know." On the boundary's far side is our story, our poem, our song. On this side are the resonant hunches, griefs, secrets, and confusions from which our writing will emerge. Guiding us from such glimmerings through to a finished piece are a wealth of experiments, assignments, and tricks of the trade that Stafford has perfected over thirty years of classes, workshops, and other gatherings of writers.

Informing The Muses Among Us are Stafford's own convictions about writing--principles to which he returns again and again. We must, Stafford says, honor the fragments, utterances, and half-discovered truths voiced around us, for their speakers are the prophets to whom writers are scribes. Such filaments of wisdom, either by themselves or alloyed with others, give rise to our poems, stories, and essays. In addition, as Stafford writes, "all pleasure in writing begins with a sense of abundance--rich knowledge and boundless curiosity." By recommending ways for students to seek beyond the self for material, Stafford demystifies the process of writing and claims for it a Whitmanesque quality of participation and community.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

From his doting aunt, our son, Guthrie, four years old, has received a child's Polaroid camera. Wrapping paper strewn about him, he turns to my wife, Perrin, and says, "Mom, get with Dad. I want a picture of you to show my children when you're...

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Writing Daily, Writing in Tune

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pp. 1-2

There was a physicist who played the violin. One morning he took his fiddle to the lab, wrapped it green with felt, clamped it gently in a vise, and trained the electron microscope close on the spruce belly, just beside the sound hole, where a steel peg was set humming at a high...

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Scribe to the Prophet

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pp. 3-8

She is dressed in simple gray before us. Into the meetinghouse without image or emblem, I have come with my friends, a group of touring writers. We call ourselves "The Forgotten Language Tour," and we have turned aside from our performance circuit through Iowa to visit...

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Library of the Mind

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pp. 9-13

My writing is plagiarized, but not from books. I hear speeches, conversations, and single sentences I want, and often in one pass they remain in my mind, to be transcribed at relative leisure. How does this come to...

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The Writer as Professional Eavesdropper

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pp. 14-26

Reading the classified section in Mexico City's Tiempo Libre, I came across the notice for an unusual public service: Hospital of the word: emergencies and preventative attention. Permanent workshop for the defense...

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Live Free or Die

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pp. 27-29

The conference was a fine one, where the Wyoming Council on the Arts had gathered us in Casper to wrestle the issues and opportunities of the art trade. But after a couple sessions my head got full and I had to get out. I went softly out the ballroom door...

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Quilting Your Solitudes: A Letter to My Class

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pp. 30-51

The other night in class, I heard from each of you why your busy lives have kept you from writing. It broke my heart—especially since I share your predicament and had to confess a dry spell of my own. What shall we do about time and our...

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Looking for Mr. Nu

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pp. 52-59

When I conducted a writing workshop in Port Angeles, Washington, someone asked, "How do you write an essay?" That was our topic, and I was the visiting expert hired to know. But somehow the question stalled me. I couldn't explain. We went around the table and told something...

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Happy Problems

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pp. 60-68

Most of a writer's difficulties are what my father used to call "happy problems." I remember hearing this phrase often as a cheerful response to my report of anguish. Childhood is so rich with possibilities, we kids often experienced summer...

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Personal Memory and Fictional Character

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pp. 69-75

For years I have gone to class unprepared to teach. Please don't tell my dean. I don't want to live this way, and I'm sometimes stricken with guilt. But the world is such a busy place, and the phone rings, the inbox fills with mail I feel I must answer, and I'm so optimistic about...

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Reading the Cutbank Grief

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pp. 76-79

How many teachers have told you, "If you want to be a writer, start by being a reader"? I've heard it so often I say it to myself. I'm constantly copying tides of books recommended by friends into the back pages of my pocket notebook...

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Open Discovery in the Art of Creative Nonfiction

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pp. 80-83

I have learned from a friend about a legal process called "open discovery." This requires the prosecutor and the defense attorney to hide nothing. Each clue one discovers is given to the other. When all clues have been shared, their work in court is to compose the strongest...

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The Random Autobiography

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pp. 84-90

Several years ago I received a manila envelope out of the blue from my aunt Helen: Dear Kim: I'm sending you this because it seems important to me that one should be known really...

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Sentence as River and as Drum

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pp. 91-96

When I left college to conduct an oral history project in the 19705,1 learned how the spoken language is performed in the key of "and." A storyteller ends each "sentence," each episode in the long recollection, with the word "and," which simultaneously...

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Writing in the Open

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pp. 97-100

Where does your writing actually get done—in time, and in space? What have been the conditions that, perhaps unpredictably, produced your most interesting work? Are there places or times you would consider impossible to write? Are there places or times you believe would...

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pp. 101-103

In college I signed up for the class called "Camp Cookery" just because I was curious and had Wednesday nights free. It turned out to be a required course for all geology majors, and we twelve men rolled up our sleeves, put on our aprons, and were...

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Why Write?

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pp. 104-106

The answer must be pleasure. If I don't write for pleasure, I want to adjust the conditions until I do. The pleasure of immersing myself in stories wakes me in the morning, and makes me reluctant to retire at night. So much of life is attrition, and how precious...

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Rosie's Book of Sayings

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pp. 107-111

A standard question in literary life is "What book most influenced you on your path to becoming a writer?" Many answers are possible, and the wonderful thing is that any book might be the most important at the moment you are reading...

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Selfish Pleasures in a Life of Art: A Speech to the Graduating Class

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pp. 112-116

What is the speed of life? I remember two sensations from my youth. One, that I would last forever, a euphoria of eternity with the earth. Second, that I would suddenly end, that my whole long life would collapse into a moment...

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pp. 117-121

I began to lose my innocence about ravishing fame one day when I came to work, sifted the mail on my desk, and opened a letter on New Mexico motel stationery: Kim: I was playing a charity gig down in Albuquerque when I came...

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Afterword: Learning from Strangers

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pp. 122-133

A friend calls this life "a bridge from before to after." On this bridge, crossing as a writer, a teacher, and a seeker, what shall I do—especially now? I have stories to tell, and ways to begin. But what is my particular calling in the...

There Was a Time

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pp. 135

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pp. 137-138

One morning when I woke in the forest, I looked up to first light at the tops of the trees and I could feel their gratitude. I could feel their green surge of thanks for the sunlight, for the earth, for water. And I could feel their affinity for one another...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820340364
E-ISBN-10: 0820323241
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820323244

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2003