The WordCloud of Unknowing
contemporary poetics and the spiritual journey

...a weekend of exploration for everyone who loves words.

Focusing on poetry and songwriting for people on a spiritual journey in the 21st Century, this multi-day event will be held at The Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Phoenix, Arizona over the weekend of October 14-16, 2022.

The program includes presentations, seminar-style workshops, an open mic event, and a parallel track especially for those interested in the art of songwriting. Opportunities for individual meditation and liturgical worship are also available.


Conference Details


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Roy G. Guzmán

Bobby Jo Valentine


Friday, October 14, 2022                             4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Saturday, October 15, 2022                         8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 16, 2022                           10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to close


All Access (includes lunch on Saturday)

Adults                                                                  $50.00

Students (with valid student ID)                  $35.00


Friday, October 14

4:00 p.m.         Registration opens

5:00 p.m.         Meet and Greet with refreshments

7:00 p.m.         Historical Context (liturgical worship opportunity)

  • Festival High Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

  • Reception will follow

Saturday, October 15

8:30 a.m.           Coffee and Conversation

9:00 a.m.           Sung Matins (liturgical worship opportunity)

9:30 a.m.           Presentation

10:45 a.m.         Break

11:00 a.m.         Presentation

12:00 noon       Midday Prayer (liturgical worship opportunity)

1:30 p.m.           Seminar/Workshop

3:00 p.m.           Break

3:15 p.m.           Seminar/Workshop

4:45 p.m.           Break

5:00 p.m.           Vespers (liturgical worship opportunity)

7:30 p.m.           Concert by Bobby Jo Valentine

  • Reception will follow

Sunday, October 16

10:30 a.m.          High Mass with Poetry and Song

  • Reception will follow

6:30 p.m.            Open mic at offsite venue

For further details, the organizers can be contacted at:


Guides' Biographies


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo



    He is a founding member the Undocupoets campaign which successfully eliminated all citizenship requirements from every major first book poetry prize in the nation and for which he received the Writers for Writers Award from Barnes and Noble and Poets and Writers Magazine. He was the first undocumented student to graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan.


    A graduate of the Canto Mundo Latinx Poetry fellowship, he has also received fellowships to attend the Vermont Studio Center and the Community of Writers Workshop. He has taught at literary organizations such as the Chautauqua Institution, Tin House, The Writers Center in D.C., Hugo House in Seattle, 92Y in NYC and as was awarded a distinguished fellow position for the Marshall Project’s Art For Justice initiative from the University of Arizona which advocates for prison reform. He a 2022 guest editor for the Poem-A-Day project from the Academy of American Poets and currently teaches in the creative writing program at St. Mary’s University, and the Ashland Low-Res MFA Program, as well as poetry workshops for incarcerated youth in Northern California as the Yuba and Sutter County poet laureate.

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s most recent book is Children of the Land: a Memoir (Harper Collins) which received acclaim from Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and was finalist for the International Latino Book Award. He is also the author of poetry book Cenzontle, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. prize (BOA editions 2018), which was awarded the the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writer Award for poetry, the 2019 Golden Poppy Award from the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, and the FOREWORD INDIE bronze prize for best book of the year. Cenzontle was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, the California Book Award, the Publishing Triangle's Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and the Northern California Book Award. Cenzontle received star reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Harvard Review, The San Francisco Chronicle among many others and was listed as one of NPR's and the New York Public Library top books of 2018. His first chapbook, Dulce, was the winner of the Drinking Gourd Prize (Northwestern University Press).


    His work has been adopted to opera through collaboration with the composer Reinaldo Moya and he is the translator of the Argentinian modernist poet, Jacobo Fijman and is currently at work translating the poems of the contemporary Mexican Peruvian poet Yaxkin Melchy. He co-translated the work of the Mexican poet Marcelo Uribe with acclaimed poet C.D. Wright before her untimely passing.


Roy G. Guzmán


Roy G. Guzmán (they/them) is a Honduran poet and scholar.

Their first collection, Catrachos, was published by Graywolf

Press in 2020. Catrachos was named a finalist for the Kate

Tufts Discovery Award and the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry.


Raised in Miami, Florida, Roy was named a Debut Poet by Poets

& Writers Magazine. The recipient of a 2019 grant from the

National Endowment for the Arts, in 2017 they were named a

Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow.


Roy is also the recipient of a 2017 Minnesota State Arts Board

Initiative grant and the 2016 Gesell Award for Excellence in

Poetry. Their work has been included in several anthologies.

In 2016, Roy was the recipient of a Scribe for Human Rights

Fellowship, focusing on issues affecting migrant farm workers

in Minnesota. That same year, they were chosen to participate

in the fourth Letras Latinas Writers Initiative gathering, spon-

sored by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University

of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, in partnership

with the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the

MFA Program at Arizona State University. Roy returned to

Arizona as a Letras Latinas Scholar in 2018.

Roy participated in the first Poetry Incubator, sponsored by

the Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary, and was invited

to run a workshop during the Incubator's second year. After

the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, their poem “Restored

Mural for Orlando” was turned into a chapbook with the help

of poet and visual artist, D. Allen, to raise funds for the victims. With poet Miguel M. Morales, Roy edited the anthology Pulse/Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando, published by Damaged Goods Press.

In 2015, they were awarded a GRPP Graduate Research Fellowship to investigate trauma caused by violence in and migration from Honduras. In 2018, Roy was awarded a second GRPP Graduate Research Fellowship to travel to Honduras for research.

Roy holds degrees from the University of Minnesota, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, and the Honors College at Miami Dade College. They currently live in Minneapolis, where they are pursuing a PhD in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature (track: Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society) at the University of Minnesota, in addition to finishing a young adult (YA) memoir-in-verse, scheduled to come out through Scholastic.


Bobby Jo Valentine




Bobby Jo Valentine is a multi-faceted and sought-after speaker, songwriter and storyteller who grew up on the windy seaside of Northern California.

He’s been called a hopeful, realist poet and a philosopher for the people. His songs are both earthbound and mystical, and speak to the gentle, everyday awakenings of an openhearted life.


Somewhere deep in the heart of everything lies a melody. It speaks to our truest selves, binds us together with the ones we love, and brings out the best part of who we are.

Bobby Jo Valentine is a singer/songwriter who chases after this particular kind of music.

He writes songs that travel light, but “grow deeper and deeper with each further listen”, as the music publication Soundtrack to My Day describes. The poetic nature of his stories and songs has resulted in many notable awards and a growing, supportive, loyal following. Bobby seeks to write music that means something good, and speaks hope into the beautiful, sacred, terrifying, mesmerizing world that we live in.


Bobby Jo Valentine’s artistry crosses the lines of many genres, but his thoughtful lyrics and catchy melodies reach listeners on all paths of life. The authentic, heartfelt nature

of his songs have won him Songwriter of the Year at both the West Coast Songwriter’s Association and the SoCo Songwriter Competition, the Nashville Next Level Songwriter award, and more. He’s sold over 20,000 albums and performed more than 1500 concerts, all without a record label, with the support of devoted groups of fans and friends who grow in number after every performance.


Born into a Baptist church of strict lines and sharp edges, and coming out of that culture to discover who he really is, Bobby is now a believer in a larger sense, in the wild, strange, mystical nature of the world and the beauty that can be found underneath almost any tragedy. Faith has come to mean something much deeper and more generous than where he started. Along with theaters, house concerts, and many other venues, spiritual faith communities around the nation frequently invite Bobby to perform. He has performed for The Wild Goose Festival, the national GCN conference, the international Emerge conference, Tedx, the Kinship Festival, and UCC General Synod, among many others, and is ecstatic any time he can invite big questions, challenge easy answers, and inspire people closer to love. REAL JUSTICE

Bobby is a proud supporter of equal rights and opportunities for all people. He believes that we’re all in this together; that “the arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice”; and that real justice means justice for everyone. Bobby is often invited to perform benefit concerts for many equal rights organizations, Pride festivals, and justice-oriented non-profits, including the National Safe Place Network and Family Promise.


When he isn’t touring the nation singing his songs, Bobby lives on the windy coastline of Northern California. His new albums “Fox Eyes, Whale Heart” and “Maybe Stars” are available worldwide on Spotify, iTunes, and at his online store. Also, he releases new music every month on Patreon.

On any given weekend, you can find Bobby performing at a wild spread of venues…a festival, a house concert, a gay men’s retreat, or a spiritual community. Bobby’s music has appeared on radio and television, including a commercial for the recent Ford Fusion ©, ABC’s morning show The Morning Blend, and the award winning film The Groom’s Cake. His songs have received airplay from KGO, KRSH, and other radio stations nationwide.

About the name of the Conference

Throughout history, the mystics have known that the infinite God is, in essence, unknowable by finite and fragile human beings. And yet… those same mystics tell us that the unknowable God seems to want to have a relationship with us.


All through the Bible, from beginning to end, God’s character is revealed through words. In the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, God creates everything in the cosmos using words—starting with “Let there be light” (Fiat lux in Latin). A bit later in the creation story, after the animals have been created, humans are created “in the ‘Image of God’” (Imago Dei). And, by implication, we humans most clearly manifest the Image of our Creator when we ourselves are creating. And when we humans use words to create, this is arguably the closest we come to being both finite and Godlike at the same time. 


Echoing those first words of the Bible, the Gospel of John begins: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos )…and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” When John goes on to reveal that it is Jesus Christ who is the Word made flesh, what he means is that the Word-Power behind the universe has stepped into history in order to begin making all things new. 


Fiat lux, indeed!


So, one way of thinking about poetry is as a kind of incarnation. The more ‘enfleshed’ words are—the more creatively and concretely they’re used—the more powerfully they can pierce our hearts and souls and minds with their light. And poetry is the artistic discipline which is most focused on empowering words—words made flesh, words romancing the soul, words communicating the Unknowable. And all because we are made in the Image of God which already resonates with creative power in the deepest recesses of our being.


The name of the conference was created by joining together something very old and something very new.


The Old

No one knows who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing, one of medieval mysticism’s most celebrated texts. Written in 14th Century England, and available in manuscript and then printed editions for over 900 years, the author  endeavors to guide the reader toward a more individual and passionate relationship with God. 


The New

A word cloud is a computer-generated way of analyzing a text by word frequency. The resulting analysis is a collection, or cluster, of words depicted in different sizes. The bigger and bolder the word appears in the cluster, the more often it's mentioned within the text. The poster for this event depicts a word cloud generated from the text of The Cloud of Unknowing which takes the form of a wide beam of light piercing through the lowering clouds and illuminating the darkness below.


The Name

The name of this conference, “The WordCloud of Unknowing,” is something of a pun which joins the name of a modern ‘technology of words’ (word cloud)with the title of one of the most influential works of medieval mysticism. 


But the name of the weekend is not just a rather eccentric and esoteric ‘techno/mystical pun.’ It sums up a conference which explores how the power of words in contemporary poetry can lead us and our readers in their journey toward a more individual and passionate relationship with God the Word.