The Progoff Intensive Journal ® Program


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Myself as a Poet

Sally Allen McNall, Ph.D.

I first went to an Intensive Journal workshop in 1978, when I was just out of graduate school, and had been writing almost nothing but papers, tests and lectures for ten years. I was aware that there was something wrong with this, for me anyway, but I had no idea how to find my way back to identifying myself as a poet-as I had when I was younger.

I certainly did not expect that one workshop would teach me that lesson, but it did. Because of the way the Intensive Journal workshop showed me how to access imagery and symbol, and then to connect them to larger systems of personal meaning, I began to write poetry seriously again the morning of the second day of the workshop, in the workshop. This was not even, I was told, against the rules! I have gone only two years without a workshop since then, and many years I have been to two or even three-besides the work I do on my own.

Indeed, the Intensive Journal insistence on being non-judgmental about what you write, and the many ways it gives you to follow up on your insights and inspirations, freed me in a number of ways. Journal work made it possible for me to alter daily-life circumstances that stood in the way of my writing. Within three years I was part of a working writer’s group, and getting poems published regularly. It's been twenty-five years since I first said to someone "Yes, I'm a poet," and I have two chapbooks and a book (two of these national contest winners) to show for it, not to speak of a great deal of skill in nurturing the talent and sensibility of other writers, much of it drawn from the Intensive Journal work.

For example, are you a fiction writer, or a playwright? Here are some ways to discover how to do the best dialogue you have ever done. If you haven't written anything you like for months, here are two exercises that will connect you to what is really your current subject matter. Or here are two that will clear your mind of depression or anxiety. (One of the real problems with ordinary journal writing is that it permits us to recycle the same issue over and over again, making no artistic, let alone spiritual progress. The Intensive Journal method doesn't permit that. You take your issues in directions that open the possibility of solutions every time.) Or here are three exercises that will illuminate and eventually resolve your conflict with the work you have bogged down in.

I am in two writing groups currently, and one of the most valuable things I establish when I work with others is the free flow I learn in Intensive Journal workshops-your work is yours, I cannot tell you how to do it (non-judgmental) and therefore it's possible for us to share all our ideas about each other's work in perfect safety. (In a Journal workshop you practice privacy in a community. That is an excellent exercise for any writer.)

I also teach creative writing to first semester college freshman, using Intensive Journal related techniques for centering and discovery. Of course, I have to give them grades, but I know that they gain confidence in the class from the freedom with their writing that I have learned to give them. There is much more available to each of us as writers than we know! The Intensive Journal method is the best I know of for finding that unfailing source.

Sally Allen McNall, Ph.D., author of How to Behave at the Zoo and Other Lessons; Rescue; and Trying to Write a Poem Without the Word Blood In It