Art’s Impulse

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You know who they are. People I call “connectors.” The ones you meet along life’s path who challenge you to become your personal best, who provide encouragement in your skills as a writer and artist, who recognize the dynamics of living a creative life and show, through their own examples, how to sustain it.

That’s why when Suzi Banks Baum asked me to talk about my process as a creative person, I obliged. Through the sharing of her art, poetry and life, Suzi is a master at bringing women together to share their stories of struggle, accomplishment and beauty.

Suzi is an artist, writer and full time mom who edited An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. On her blog, Laundry Line Divine, Suzi writes about the juggling act of motherhood and creativity, and how to navigate the waters of social media for authors and artists. She hosts a blog series with guests from around the world, and provides “hands on” writing and art workshops in real time. In real places! 

Suzi lives in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and I live in Alaska. We will finally get to meet in person this August at a reading of her anthology (in which I gratefully have a story) in the north woods of Marquette, Michigan. We’ll also let our imaginations fly in a mixed media art workshop. 

I am a poet, writer and dabbler in painting and mixed media and this is how I work: 
Sometimes in the writing of poetry, I have an initial idea and start by “clustering” to create a portal into the mind. Gabriele Lusser Rico describes this technique in her book, Writing the Natural Way. Many natural forms come in clusters…grapes, lilacs, spider eggs…as do thoughts and images (when given free rein). The literary critic Northrop Frye said “any word can become a storm center of meanings, sounds, and associations, radiating out like ripples in a pool.” To follow art’s impulse is to write whatever comes to mind in the moment.

It’s as simple as writing a word down on a page, and then free-associating words and ideas triggered by that word without censorship or dwelling on anything specific. Keep your hand moving for two minutes, letting words and thoughts spill out without thinking or analyzing anything. Clustering happens naturally and feels a bit chaotic as you let words radiate out from the nucleus word without judgment. 

Stop writing after two minutes, then connect the words with arrows on the page. At some point, a shift occurs and you suddenly understand what you want to write about; the subject of the piece becomes clear. Sometimes I have to repeat the process several times until the clouds dissipate and a mental shift occurs. At this point, I switch from using a pencil to writing on the computer. My poem, Trajectory, was created in this way:

The river doesn’t follow a straight line
pulled by the moon but roams
like a coyote
following root skin and scent.
Ice jams push sludge brown waters
(on a screaming path), uprooting
one-hundred-year-old spruce trees and
cutting the silt bank to its knees.
We count our blessings. shore up with big rocks.
muscle against the inevitable, learn
to soften and adapt.
And this summer you turned eight.
smarter. taller. faster. still freckled.
learning to skate and paint.
are you who you once were?
a fish pulled from the net slides
through my slippery hands, gulls wheel
the sky goes rust and
everything, it seems
is carved in sand.

Another way to generate poems is to create an amalgam of images and write from the finished product. This is also chaotic from the start, but interesting because associations may be made from the interaction of images that initially had nothing in common. I keep a big box of images: pictures cut from magazines, old postcards, greeting cards, sketches, small impromptu paintings, photographs. 

I’ll take a photograph and cut out images to interlay on the photograph, and experiment to see what emerges. The image at the top of this post is one such creation. I haven’t created a poem from this appropriated image yet, but I suspect when I do, it will be about any number of things: language, ancestry, the rhythm of time, lineage, Native Americans, the art that binds people of different ages, or something as obscure as salt or silence (clustered words), or it may even dip into a political realm.    

Digging through my big box of images clipped from magazines, recycled books, and drawings, I pull together possibilities. The results are often times surprising and revelatory. I didn’t know I was going to write about sugar maples today! 
In the area of writing, I am currently working on a memoir about the adventures I so adamantly searched for in my 20’s by making a move to Alaska, and the intersection of those experiences with my immediate family’s upbringing (originating in Michigan). At the same time, I follow the intensity of poetry because it brings out strong feeling, even though often contradictory, and find it is grist for writing longer pieces of both fiction and non-fiction. 

Thank you, Suzi, for inviting me on this blog hop to share my process and introduce other writers, artists and digital media gurus to the reading public. 

Next on the list…Joanne Tombrakos. Joanne is a storyteller, marketing and sales consultant, and Professor of Digital Marketing at NYU ( 

Joanne considers herself a creative entrepreneur and she is the self-published author of It Takes An Egg Timer, A Guide To Creating The Time For Your Life and a novel, The Secrets They Kept. Joanne contributes to The Huffington PostForbesWoman and BlogHer. A two-time career reinventor, her previous incarnations included teaching in the public school system and sales and marketing positions for CBS and Time Warner. When not consulting, blogging or working on the next book she can be found indulging in dance breaks, naps, and dark chocolate. 

0 thoughts on “Art’s Impulse”

  1. SOOOO that is how the "genius foyer" is navigated in your own particular brand of amazing. Wow. I am eager to try this out. Like right now. Gotta run. Wonderful post Monica. Meet me by Superior! OOHHHH!
    And I look forward to what Joanne has to offer on this. Thank you for inviting our Anthology Sisters along for the ride. xo S

  2. Monica,

    I really enjoyed your description of Suzi as a connector…she's a beautiful human bridge, isn't she? I love your talk here of using clustering to create a portal…As a fellow poet, I love images, collage, maps, weavings, masks. Loved the poem you shared here–won't forget that line, "sky goes rust…" just lovely.

  3. I enjoyed your site, Tania. You were at Ghost Ranch last October for a workshop? I was there for the month of October, and will spend Oct.14 there as well. Such an inspiring place. Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem will be there during this timeframe, speaking about women and leadership. Thanks for your input. I especially enjoyed your videos.

  4. lovely lovely lovely. I am finally catching up on my fellow-ess (would someone please invent a word that is the female version of "fellow") collaborators who have the divine @Suzi in common. your poetry is beautiful, Monica…..xo

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Welcome to the creative playground of Image, Sculpture, Verse.  I live in a river town nestled in the Chugach Mountain Range of Southcentral Alaska.



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