Waking the Muse 

There was a time when Stacy Dyson was in Oklahoma City; her luck was bad, her spirits were down, her finances a disaster. A close personal friendship was eroding, beyond repair. If not for the kindness of an acquaintance, she would have been on the street. But she couldn't bring herself to reveal her despair to her family, back in Colorado.

"Dyson women are hardheaded; we think we can just fix it -- we're also stubborn," she said. Finally Dyson came home. "I learned that if you let God hold you up, if you let your family support you, they will do it. But you can't hold secrets."

Dyson, a hot blues singer and the poet laureate for the Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration, is also currently channeling her passion into the Mighty Muse Writing Project. The writing workshops are designed to help women who are rising above the challenges of poverty and social crisis in the Pikes Peak region; women who are recovering from homelessness, addiction and incarceration. The program is believed to be the first of its kind in Colorado.

'The boost I needed'

Dyson doesn't claim to have tapped into the level of hardship that some of the project's recipients have endured, but she does see the fortune in being able to help cultivate important new writing voices.

Founded last year by local writer Rebekah Shardy, Mighty Muse's initial project was a six-week creative writing workshop for women at COMCOR, a community corrections facility in Colorado Springs. Six women in their 30s and 40s constituted the graduating class, and through their writing were able to refocus and help work through some of the pain in their lives. Shardy, an occasional Independent contributor, has also introduced the writing workshops through the Women's Resource Agency's Women in Transitions group; Fresh Start, a resource agency for homeless women; Alano House, which provides support for recovering alcoholics; and the Salvation Army.

"I've never really had the chance to actually write until I got here and had the time to ourselves," wrote Renita after one workshop. "Some of the things were very touching and hard to write, but was worth it."

Susanne, another graduate, weighed in, "I have been having difficulty writing lately and this was the boost I needed to get going again. I learned a lot and got my self-confidence back, that I had been missing for awhile."

Nearly 75 women have been reached through the project, and Shardy hopes to double that number next year. The county's probation department has called, and Shardy also hopes to bring her project to untapped writers who are incarcerated at the Women's Correctional Facility in Florence.

"It seems to me that people who are in that place in their life are most zealous in wanting change," Shardy said.

The uncensored muse

Mighty Muse's crowning event of the year is this weekend's poetry reading, where the winners of Mighty Muse's first poetry and essay contest will be announced and honored. Awards include a $1,000 scholarship to the CU-Springs Writing Program, free admission to the 2002 Pikes Peak Writers Conference and a gift certificate to Chinook Bookshop.

Several of the 15 to 17 women who submitted entries will be on-hand to read their work, and will be joined onstage by Dyson and her "Dragonwing" poets, six women who figure as some of the hottest readers in Colorado Springs.

Included in the mix: Harriet Hunt, the former poet laureate of Phoenix who now lives in Manitou, whose appearance Dyson calls deceiving. "She's a blushing 70, and dresses a little eccentrically and looks like someone's grandma and it's all misleading as hell," Dyson said. "She's absolutely fearless; her writing is devastating in beauty, devastating in truth."

Then there's Gwen Stoll, a former nun who, when Dyson was first introduced, thought, "Oh, boy, when God's brides switch over, they are ready to kick butt." And Susan Carew, a 2000 fellow at the Colorado Council for the Arts, who Dyson describes as "an incredibly sweet-faced country girl. She looks like she bathes in milk and drinks nothing but lemonade -- and that's only how she looks."

Zedekah Poindexter, whose "passion and voice and humor makes me want to cry as soon as I hear her start [reading]," will be there, as will Vivian Grant, whose poetry, Dyson says, "blew me away in about 10 minutes."

And finally, Denise Gard will also take the stage: "I described Denise once as a sword wrapped in silk," Dyson said. "She's like the very best Oriental sword -- you don't know you're bleeding until you see the blood."

The women will all read their poetry, mainly focusing on women's stories, their lives and social concerns. "I'll also be singing a little," Dyson said.

But the main honorees are the Mighty Muse graduates themselves, women who Shardy and Dyson admire for their guts and willingness to share the difficulties of their lives -- as well as their talent.

"New voices are always important, and the fact that we are lucky enough to hear these new voices is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed," Dyson said.

Editor's note: This story is the second in the series on the nine recipients of the Independence Community Fund.


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