I take a creativity lab with a wonderful, passionate artist named Maria Lucia Phillips, to whom I've dedicated my first two books and will probably dedicate every other book I'll ever write.

The lab is not about critiquing yourself or others, or honing your craft. It's about shaking you down to the deep core of yourself and seeing what comes up. It's about expressing your emotions in a way that the soul -- no, wait. It's about letting your soul express emotions in a way that it/he/she understands. For me, expressing it at that level means the soul feels heard. And then it can move on.

So, the Prisoner poem in the last post was one expression of feeling imprisoned. I wrote a lot of prisoner poems. Week after week I wrote prisoner poems. Maria Lucia kept assigning more homework, and I kept saying, "Not yet. Still hangin' out with the prisoner."

Some of the homework I'm working on now, which she's been assigning weekly for at least four months (and I've been ignoring), is to bring "flesh and blood" to my inner critic. When I finally was able to let go of the prisoner, the first "critic" piece I wrote was a very satisfying story about what might happen if my critic came to life. Because of course it would come after me with a knife, stab-stab-stabbing as I frantically tried to write faster than it could stab me to death. And Maria Lucia would have to come to the funeral and boy, wouldn't she be sorry then! It was a fun way to explain my reluctance.

Here's my third or fourth critic piece. Here I've broken away from writing about my own inner critic and put it on someone else's shoulder. A classic example of projecting and deliciously rewarding!

The Critic’s Familiar

a vulture rides her left shoulder;
lunges and shakes its ugly featherless head
when you speak

eager to hasten living flesh into carrion,
it clatters beak like voodoo man’s bones
burns scornful gaze across your face

to the critic’s familiar,
you hand weapons with every sentence
who knew indefinite pronoun, sentence ending preposition,
misplaced word could hold such power?

she returns weapons blade first with underhand cuts
and skilled slashes
counting on weak parries and
tiring counterattacks

when you raise shield and move away, only
the vicious squawks and great flapping of wings

vulture riding her left shoulder,
she edges further into the room
you notice welts
where vulture has pecked scalp and shoulder

and a brass chain, clutched in claw,
wound around and around her neck

her desperate eyes follow you
with something more than hunger