Creating community with words

Sandra Dorr, center, leads a discussion about a member’s poem as Darlene Burger, left, and Barbara Meeker listen during a gathering of the Western Slope Writers’ Forum, 800 Colorado Ave. The Writers Forum was holding training for volunteers in a new program called Voices, during which the volunteers will be working with people to help them write their stories.


Editor’s note: We naturally seek out the people with whom we belong, and when we find them we find a kind of home, our group. This story is one in a series by features writer Rachel Sauer about area groups. If you would like to tell us about your group, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 256-4263.

The tears, when they came, were gentle and unexpected.

She’d written quickly, a poem-in-20-minutes exercise inspired by silent things, loud things and eternal things. She wrote about her mother, who died nine years ago. She recalled times they spent folding and stacking colorful swaths of fabric, that “purple and pink make a party.”

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca Mullen apologized as the tears spilled. “I didn’t expect to feel this much.”

The other women sitting with her around the table nodded in sympathy and compassion. The words, when they come, may be soft as a sigh, but carry the incandescent energy of a solar flare. Anyone who has ever touched pen to paper can understand.

“We’re making a home for one of the oldest arts we have,” explained Sandra Dorr, founder of the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum. “We’re using words as community building.”

In more than a year since its birth, the forum has gained momentum in promoting and celebrating writing and, by extension, the power and beauty of words. On this particular day, when Mullen remembered the parachute fall of fabric unfurling, seven women were beginning a 10-week training for a new forum venture called “Voices of the Grand Valley.”

With Dorr facilitating, they will spend nine weeks learning how to lead writing groups composed of incarcerated youth, senior citizens, the homeless, veterans or victims of domestic violence. The goal, Dorr said, is to give people a voice, to empower them through writing, to unlock and undam the words that often huddle, silent, inside their heads and hearts.

“I would like an awakening — for me, for others,” said volunteer Darlene Burger. “I want to create an awareness that we are united.”

So, the women wrote. And they discussed what they love about writing, about writing as a conduit for expression, healing and growth. The point, they agreed, was not to pre-censor oneself or to worry about what others might think, but to get the words out there.

This, Dorr explained, is the goal of most forum activities, whether it’s installing poetry on Main Street or posting it on Grand Valley Transit buses, leading writing exercises in public schools or gathering as friends to hear others’ writing. The forum hosts monthly activities such as potlucks or salons, at 800 Colorado Ave., as well as outreach programs. On a recent Friday night, Telluride poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer invoked the spirit of Rumi and celebrated the sacred in daily life through her poems and songs, and the audience was rapt.

“Writing is my art, it’s like my breath,” Dorr said. “It’s the thing I can offer the community.”

At the Voices of the Grand Valley training, the first of 10, she encouraged the volunteers to discuss what they love about writing and what frightens them.

“I’m afraid of my own voice, the immensity of it,” Mullen admitted. “Sometimes I want to turn it off or turn away.”

Barb Meeker agreed: “The massiveness (of writing) is scary. How do you do the bit by bit of it?”

It’s an individual road that’s usually navigated alone, but that’s hopefully swaddled and made safe by a community of support, Dorr said. Much like singing, in which the most important thing to do is just open your mouth, the hugest step in writing is to touch the tip of your pen to the paper. As a conduit to the soul, it’s a terrifying and exhilarating first step.

And then the words come.

For more information or to donate writing supplies to the various Western Colorado Writer’s Forum projects, call 256-4662 or go to


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