New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry entitled, Where Roses Bloom.


I am the most unlikely of writers. It wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I even learned how to read. A talented teacher, named Warren Allen Smith taught me that words mean something. That was news to me. Mr. Smith brought books to life. One day he stumbled into the classroom impersonating a drunken William Faulkner, fell into a chair and invited us to ask him anything about The Sound and The Fury. I was hooked. Four years later I left college with a degree in American Literature.

But I still considered my self a reader, not a writer. It was many years later, having become a psychotherapist that a strange thing happened. In the midst of a moderate bout with depression I began an experiment with Prozac. Partly out of professional curiosity and partly out of desperation I grasped for the little pill taking the country by storm. The experiment didn't go well. Eight weeks in I abandoned the project feeling slightly worse for the effort.

The next two weeks were miserable. Depression of a far more despairing nature occupied my psyche and seemed like a squatter intent on setting up permanent residence. On the 18th day post Prozac, I woke to a beautiful spring morning with anxiety flooding my body. Before I could do much of anything to combat it, I noticed something else was tagging along: a poem. Don't ask me why, but I wrote that poem down right away. It was wonderful and awful.

As fate would have it, I discovered William Stafford a short time later. He said two things that changed everything—then he sent me on my way. Thing one: write a poem every morning. Thing two: listen for threads of inspiration. I did both. I wrote a poem every morning for ten years. This was not a chore. It soon became play, though most of the daily poems were as bad as the first. Listening, I soon realized came easy having been trained in the art of free association by Herr Freud.

A few years have passed and I find I have written two novels, four books of poetry, many essays on all sorts of things, and now a non-fiction book on writing. And honestly, I barely remember doing any of it. Warren Allen Smith wrote five books after turning 80! But truly, there isn't anything special about me or Mr. Smith. It's really about showing up. Because there is something very special about being taken by the creative spirit and surrendering to its wishes.

My best writing comes from a place I cannot locate. It often comes unbidden at 3am or while putting out the cat food. This is what I love. The mystery, the surprise that must be put to paper quickly before it disappears. I don't understand what happens, and I like it that way because over and over it convinces me of a source within that is fresh, fertile and free.

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