A chapter from The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of thr Writer’s Craft (University of Georgia Press in 2003)



Writing Daily, Writing in Tune

by Kim Stafford


There was once a physicist who also 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 f-hole, where a steel peg was set humming at a high frequency. Through the microscope, once he got it tuned just right, he saw the molecular surface of the wood begin to pucker and ripple outward like rings on a pond, the ripples rising gradually into waves, and the steel peg a  blur at the heart of play.


When he drew the peg away, the ripples did not stop. In twenty-four hours, the ripples had not stopped. He saw, still, a concentric tremor on the molecular quilt of the wood. The violin, in the firm embrace of the vise, had a song, a thing to say. But then, in another twelve hours, the ripples had flattened and the wood lay inert.


Musicians know this without a microscope. An instrument dies if not played daily. A guitar, a violin, a lute chills the air for the first fifteen minutes of fresh play. It will need to be quickened from scratch. But the fiddle played every day hangs resonant on the wall, quietly boisterous when it first is lifted down, already trembling, anxious to speak, to cry out, to sing at the bow’s first stroke. Not to rasp, but to sing. The instrument is in tune before the strings are tuned.


Pablo Casals used to put it so: “If I don’t practice for even one day, I can tell the difference when I next cradle the cello in my arms. If I fail to practice for two days, my close friends can also tell the difference. If I don’t practice three days, the whole world knows.”


Writers know this when they are writing daily. With the first stroke, the hand may swim, the pen glide. The cold glass of the window brightens; the rug has a biography. Sweet tension of silent meeting throbs in the room. Unsaid words grow powerful, wish to speak out. Ideas gather their bones and rise up. A face become a life, a place a story. Everything speaks, or is powered by silence. Everything treads water, dreams aloud. The pen grows numb with haste, yet calm with plenty.


Yes, there will be labor, and hours with sweat dripping off the elbows. Yes, the words will have to be tuned — but the pen! Already shouting, poised and happy.



Kim Stafford workshops…              






Kim Stafford online generative writing workshops

July 2020 to February 2021




Citizen Poems: Writing Poetry for the Human Project

“The more I write poems,” said Elizabeth Woody, “the less it’s about what the poem is, and more about who the poem serves.” Writing can be a habit that enriches the individual life, and publishing can bring this enrichment to others, and perhaps lead to money and fame. Or—writing and sharing work composed as a gift of advocacy for your heroes, for places, and for communities—this form of creative devotion could be your true vocation. In this workshop, open to writers at all stages of experience, we will explore the notion of “citizen poems,” which are written not abouta subject, but fora person, a place, a cause, a community. We will practice writing little anthems, manifestoes, and blessings.


hosted by Willamette Writers / one-day class / Thursday, July 30, 9:30am-3:30pm


(third workshop listed)




Earth Verse

When trouble comes in the human world, there may be a little story from the wild that can offer consolation. From the Gnomic Versesin Old English, to the Tao te Ching, and the writings of Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Oliver, we have cherished lyric remedies speaking the language of earth for human comfort. In this workshop, we will harvest close observations from the Playa landscape and compose an archive of consolations for use as our need comes.


hosted by Playa at Summer Lake / Saturday-Sunday, August 1-2, 9am-3pm

Details here soon:





Pandemic Diary for Earth

In the Corona Virus era, someone said, It's as if Earth has sent us to our rooms to think about what we've done. Out of this time, how might our lives become more measured, local, and sustaining? In this online workshop, we'll write episodes of observation and thought about how this era of shelter in place might temper our frenzy, and turn us toward better ways to live. We'll compose poems, stories, letters, and other forms to offer lament, ways to savor the simpler life, and prophecy about where we might go from here as individuals, and as citizens of Earth.


hosted by Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, Saturday-Sunday / August 8-9, 10am-4pm

Details here soon:




Pandemic Poems for Lament, Solace, & Testimony

This is a one-day generative poetry workshop. Drawing on short readings from writers who have addressed pandemics—Giovanni Boccaccio, Daniel Defoe, Albert Camus, and writers addressing our predicament now—we will write poems to report personal experience, interrogate the public narrative, honor what’s lost, and celebrate what’s been clarified. The pandemic has hit the re-set button on our individual lives, our communities and our nation. Pandemic poems can re-frame what we now know we need, don’t need, and must envision. 


hosted by Richard Hugo House / date TBA (one day workshop)

Details here soon:




Courage to Lead through Writing: We Begin a Better Nation through Writing

Join us for a virtual Courage to Lead retreat designed to offer participants the time and space to reflect on the complex, challenging, and changing dimensions of leadership, rooted in the belief that effective leadership flows from the identity and integrity of the individual. Empower and deepen your leadership during these challenging times by using writing as a tool for learning and leading.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Thursday 4pm – Saturday at noon / October 1-3





Daily Writing in the Spirit of William Stafford

In a time when wars don’t stop, when pandemic strikes, jobs end, climate shifts, and life needs constant reinvention, your daily writing practice can be a way to navigate change and sustain the spirit.

     Inspired by the 50-year writing practice of William Stafford, this online workshop will include reading of classic poems and responding to writing prompts designed to deepen your own process for creation.

     We will delve into sources for starting, ways of revising, responding to work in progress, and sending forth our testimony to a world hungry for meaning. Open to all levels of experience.

     The class will utilize the online platform Zoom, with each of the two days designed as a series of conversations, writing prompts, solo writing time, then sharing and discussion.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Saturday-Sunday, December  5-6, 9am-5pm





Oregon Writing Project: Poems for a Better Nation

In these days of frenzy and confusion, some bit of news, a scrap of story, a friend’s question, or some other morsel of language from the world may long to become a song, a poem, half a poem—may long to catch something mysterious about this life. A footnote to the inexpressible.

     In this online Oregon Writing Project course, we will celebrate the winsome habit of poetry to turn small discoveries into the half-page where we say much in a few words.

We’ll read lively texts, start many lyric experiments, and talk along the way about how to use this quirky and welcoming writing practice to calm the self, and to explore with students and share with friends.

     No previous experience is necessary for participation in this course, which is open to all teachers and writers. The class will utilize the online platform Zoom, with each of the two days designed to develop a learning community through a series of conversations, writing prompts, solo writing time, then sharing and discussion.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Saturday-Sunday, February 20-21, 9am-5pm





Later in 2021              


January or February, week-long Writing Retreat in Guanajuato, Mexico


February 11-14, 2021 (tentative date), Writing Retreat at Santa Sabina, San Rafael, California



April 21-30, 2021, week-long Writing Retreat in Ireland



May 2021,  week-long Writing Retreat in Assisi, Italy