Poetry in September

Why do we write poetry, anyway? It’s not like it’s a lucrative literary market (at least not here in the U.S.). It’s not like the general reading public is clamoring for midnight poetry book release parties. How many contemporary poets can the average person name? How many books of poetry does the average reader have on the shelf?

It’s not about any of that, of course, though all kinds of people read poetry. All kinds of people write poetry, too — not just Fancy Published Authors or “academic types.” And there are so many different kinds of poetry out there, with an extraordinarily wide range of accessibility from light verse to down-to-earth, relatable narrative to completely esoteric, and everything in between.

Poetry allows us to make sense of whatever is swirling inside our minds and our hearts. (Just ask any young person with a diary and a penchant for rhyme.) It’s a gift of language and creativity. Edward Hirsch once said to me that poetry was the intersection of experience and vocabulary, and I thought, among all the different ways people can choose to define poetry, that one idea resonated as a baseline.

Many types of writers can benefit from experimenting with poetry.  Even though I’m primarily a fiction writer now (professionally), my Creative Writing degree is actually in Poetry. I began my university work as a Fiction student but switched my junior year, and after writing nothing but poetry for a few years, when I came back to writing fiction I realized that everything I’d learned about language and syntax from writing poems had made my prose exponentially better.

And now, I still write poetry because it feels like a more comfortable form of meditation in the midst of my uncomfortably busy life. It helps me process my experiences and my reactions to them in a slightly less frenetic way. And — not gonna lie — most poems take a lot less time to write and revise and polish than the average short story or novel, and there’s something akin to instant gratification from being able to do that. It doesn’t entirely feed my obsession with productivity, but it does feel pretty good.

From time to time, I teach Creative Writing classes outside of my day job. (A significant portion of which job, to be clear, is to teach Creative Writing.) These classes, which are geared toward a wider audience than my school-year courses, are often taught on Zoom outside of typical business hours, so working adults can take them no matter where they’re located. I’ve had attendees from other cities, other states, and even other countries come together in these workshops. It’s wonderful! (I should also note that there isn’t a specific age requirement to attend.)

So here is one of the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching this fall, for Grackle & Grackle, and I hope to see you in it! Click on the link to learn more and/or to register. (I recommend registering early to secure a spot. We keep these groups kind of small-ish so everyone gets personal attention and workshop time.)

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
4 weeks — Tuesday evenings in September

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams?

How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us.

In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.

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So, a few typical questions:

Q:  What if I can’t be there every week?
A:  This workshop is four sessions, but if you’re unable to make all of them, you can still participate, and I’ll catch you up on the course materials you miss.

Q:  Is this class for beginners or more advanced poets?
A:  Both emerging writers and published poets will find this course productive and useful. Because my workshops are generative (i.e. we will generate new writing in each session), I use open-ended prompts that will be useful at multiple skill levels. And as a teacher, I strive to meet each student where they are.

Q:  What format will each session follow?
A:  I try to keep things flexible, but generally you can expect some discussion of already published work to explore technique and substance, at least one writing prompt and time to work on it, and a discussion of attendees’ own work in a respectful and supportive atmosphere. Content topics will vary from week to week, centered around a particular theme.

Q:  Okay, but why should I be trying to take a poetry class in these bonkers times?
A:  What better way to reflect on your experiences and reactions to them than through a guided, focused lens that allows you to compartmentalize and process them in a specific, finite block of time?

Here again is the link to learn more about and to sign up for this course. I hope you will join us!

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