The Writer’s Voice

Winter  2015

Writers frequently talk about an awareness of an internal “voice” that they identify as a personal characteristic of their written work.  Nobel Prize poet Seamus Heaney once wrote, “Finding a voice means that you can get your own feelings into your own words, and that your words have the feel of you about them.”  This articulation represents the most common understanding of writers voice:   the distinctive style of a writer’s work, that is consciously acquired by years of training and disciplined practice. Some writers, however, have testified to an experience of voice that is radically different.  This voice is neither under the conscious control of, nor voluntarily created by the writer.  Instead, it “appears” in the writer’s mind/imagination with a text already composed, and reciting it.  Thus, the writer’s job is to transcribe (passively), rather than compose (actively).   In a recent New Directions conference, poet Gregory Orr described one such experience that occurred at the end of a long period of writers block:  “The voice was saying a poem in my head.  The poem was good; so I wrote it down.”  In another genre, Alice Walker ended her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, with this acknowledgement:  “I thank everybody in this book for coming. A.W., author and medium.” The psychoanalytic clinician also needs to find a voice in work with patients.  Early on, therapists may hear themselves sounding too much like a current supervisor, or favorite theorist as if they’re channeling their teachers, rather than developing a distinctive manner of expressing themselves and their understandings of patients.  Over the course of years of practice, the most effective clinicians find themselves growing into their own unmistakable voices.  The process of that shaping is worth our attention. Thus, this conference will look at voice as an identifiable aspect of both writing and psychoanalysis, exploring, as always, the interplay between the two disciplines.



JAMES E. GORNEY, Ph.D.,  is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. He was formerly on the staff of the Austen Riggs Center and is a graduate of the William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Institute. He has held faculty positions at Cornell, Duquesne, as well as the University of Tennessee, and is also the author of numerous papers on psychoanalytic technique. Dr. Gorney specializes in psychoanalytically-oriented treatment with the goal of personality modification and reorganization.  He has a particular interest in psychological issues related to creative writing, and received a graduate degree in creative writing at Syracuse before beginning his graduate work in psychology at the University of Chicago.  Currently, Dr. Gorney has an independent practice in psychoanalysis in Knoxville, where he is a member of the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society.

STEVEN CRAMER is a poet.  His collections of poetry include The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987); The World Book (1992);Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997); Goodbye to the Orchard (2004), which won the 2005 Sheila Motton Prize and was named an Honor Book in Poetry by the Massachusetts Center for the Book; and Clangings (2012), a book-length sequence that deals with psycho-linguistics. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he is director of the low residency MFA program in creative writing at Lesley University.

KATE DANIELS is a poet and director of creative writing at Vanderbilt University.  She is the author of four collections of poetry, including A Walk in Victoria’s Secret (2011), her most recent.  A 2013 Guggenheim Fellow, she is currently working on a project related to creative writing, literary creativity, and bipolar disease.  She is a graduate of New Directions and has been teaching writing in the program since 2008.

CYNTHIA EZELL, LMFT, is a psychotherapist, practicing in Nashville, Tennessee, where she has served as chair of the Nashville Psychotherapy Institute, and was one of the founding members of the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee.  She lives on a small farm in Lebanon, Tennessee – the source of much of her writing and blogging.  She is a 2008 graduate of New Directions.

OWEN LEWIS, M.D. is a child psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and professor at Columbia University, where he teaches in the Narrative Medicine program.  He is co-author ofPsychotherapies with Children: Adapting the Psychodynamic Process, and has also published extensively in professional journals on child and adolescent psychotherapy.  Lewis is a poet, and author of two collections, a chapbook, entitled March in San Miguel, and a full length collection, Sometimes Full of Daylight.

ELIZABETH SPIRES is a poet and children’s book author.  Her collections of poetry include The Wave Maker (2008); Now the Green Blade Rises (2002); Worldling (1996); Annonciade (1989); Swan’s Island (1985); and Globe (1981).  She is a former Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the Whiting Award for Writers.  Spires is particularly interested in the relationship of various meditative disciplines (like Zen Buddhism) to poetry.  She teaches at Goucher College where she is a chaired professor of English, and where she serves as director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing.  She lives in Baltimore.