Using Our Words: Santa Clara’s Word Warriors Writing Group
Story by Maria Judnick
Most Saturday morning visitors to the Santa Clara City Library (2635 Homestead Rd.) haven’t yet checked out the meetings in the Sycamore Room. If they peeked into that first floor space, they’d find Lesa Medley and her fellow writers hard at work. The Word Warriors, a group Medley founded in the late 1990s to extend a class she’d taken from a writing mentor, have been workshopping once a month ever since.
“We started meeting in my house although we weren’t called the Word Warriors then,” Medley said. “But we kept meeting–in supportive bookstores, then coffee shops, and [now] the library. It’s been great keeping this going!”
While the group’s composition has evolved over the years, it’s clear the members love their meetings. “We’re usually four to six people [a month],” Medley explained. “Some members have passed away, some have moved, but each month we’ve still got regulars or semi-regulars who come to write. Some months we’re close to filling the [Sycamore] room.”
Although the members may shift, Medley maintains the same structure for each of the free two hour monthly meetings. Participating in the meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28 showed how useful her generative workshops can be. Member Larry Hollist shared the news that his poem “The Cellist” was published in The Literary Nest, a locally run online magazine. Hollist read his work to enthusiastic support before the group started writing.
Medley, an adult education instructor, shares poems and prompts to inspire her fellow writers. She starts each meeting with a poem–this month it was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Always Bring a Pencil,” which generated knowing nods from the four Warriors before she passed out prompts. Recently, Medley’s created lists of words and short phrases borrowed from Patty Dann’s book The Butterfly Hours: Transforming Memories into Memoir or pulled from her poetry jar. Participants have two opportunities to write for 30 minutes–they read aloud their works-in-progress in between sessions and listen to another poem for inspiration. Medley often reads Billy Collins–January’s selection was “The Rain in Portugal.”
The workshop’s pieces revealed the Warriors’ wide inspiration–some were eloquent poems, others reflective essays about family. Two members achieved the group’s ultimate challenge–to combine all 25 words for each writing round into a coherent piece. Those drafts garnered the most applause–after all, it’s hard to combine words like “feline,” “magic” and “peach” into a heart-felt work.
For Medley, these meetings keep her motivated to write. She’s also supported her “poetry family”–the Willow Glen Poetry Project (a branch of Poetry Center San Jose) for many years. She’s often found at the readings and open mics at the Willow Glen Library (1157 Minnesota Ave.) the third Thursday of each month. (Their next reading is Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.). “I started writing a long time ago,” she mused. “My mom gave me a bright green patent leather journal to write in when we moved back [to her home state of West Virginia] at age 10. I loved that journal and have been writing ever since.”
As the January meeting wound to a close, Medley shared another Naomi Shihab Nye poem–“Two Countries.” The poem’s final lines, “Even now, when skin is not alone, /it remembers being alone and thanks something larger / that there are travelers, that people go places / larger than themselves,” seem to hint towards the Word Warriors’ broader purpose.
“It’s especially important today to be heard, to not be silenced,” Medley said. “We need to share our stories; after all,” she added with her ready smile, “humans have always been storytellers.”
For more information about the next meeting on Feb. 25, writers can join The Word Warriors Facebook group or contact Lesa Medley (firstname.lastname@example.org).