Although I love collaborating with professional writers, I also like to work with untrained folks. In Memphis I the opportunity to write songs with students, teachers, and even a group of adult offenders. This is an example from 2003, written with a group of elementary students from Orange Center Elementary
I miss my family
I miss my mother
I miss my home in Mississippi
I love my brothers
I love my sisters
I lost my home in Mississippi
Grandma's got her teeth in a jar
Uncle's looking up at the stars
Grandma's in the garden picking roses
My sister's folding up the clothes
Baby brother's saving souls
Everybody's having family dinner.
Here's an link to audio. You can feel the nostalgia, and the uprooted hurt in this.
Untrained writers take you to unexpected places. They say what they feel, and don't default to rhyme. The challenge is they don't always understand the need for tight forms, especially in songs. I need to keep a wild, untrained spot in my own writing, lest it become too predictable.
For the writers, it's exciting and empowering. I remember the teachers I worked with at the Memphis Arts Council's summer institute. Whenever we saw each other we'd be able to sing the things we collaborated on. It was a special bond.
I've been in Iowa a good while now and I'm starting to reach out to a group of non-professional creators to see what can be accomplished.