Poetry Workshop Week 1
Welcome to Week 1 of the online Poetry Workshop: Explore, Expand & Encourage Your Writing Practice! I'm looking forward to getting to know all of you a bit over the next 4 weeks and hope that this time working together in supportive community will invigorate your writing practice and help you generate new material that you can continue to develop.
Before beginning the reading and participating in any discussions, be sure to read the Poetry Workshop Agreements and Guidelines. You can find those guidelines by clicking the button to the right.
You already know a bit about me, possibly from being a former student, friend, or colleague. Please take a minute to briefly introduce yourself, share what you hope to get out of this class, and please offer any additions or suggestions related to the Workshop Agreement & Guidelines that would support you in getting the most out of this group.
This week I'd like to share a bit of the work by poet David Whyte. In April 2017, he did a TEDTalk in Spain in which he describes the poet as being engaged in the "conversational nature of reality" and writing from the "frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you." I invite you to watch this 20-minute video. I have included the text of two poems he shares below if you would like to follow along.
The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,
no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, that called you back
to the only road in the end you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place
you had lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden towers, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was the end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person and a place you had sought forever,
like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.
-- David Whyte
©2012 Many Rivers Press
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call and end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.
-- David Whyte
©2012 Many Rivers Press
Writing the Everyday
We don’t have to go anywhere glamorous or extraordinary, or have mind-blowing adventures to find material for our writing. Stories are everywhere; often the most astonishing stories are ones of the ordinary happenings of daily life. Mary Oliver’s poem “Mindful” can be a useful starting point when considering writing about day-to-day events—or writing about anything really.
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
In this poem, Mary Oliver, I think, shares a key to writing about the everyday: to look, to listen, to lose ourselves in this “soft world.” In this way we can begin to recognize the potential for stories, or moments to capture in a poem. The point is not to replicate the event exactly (unless you are a journalist doing reportage, of course), rather it is to find the essence of the experience and create a narrative based on that essence using our imagination. In other words, being mindful in our attention allows us to see prayers in blades of grass, or infinite possibilities in the ocean’s shine.
Here is how we can practice Writing the Everyday. I recommend reading through the process before beginning.
1. Take a few minutes to reflect on your day, or the day before, or whatever experience immediately comes to your mind. If you are reflecting on the activities that occurred throughout your day, you will notice that they are most likely commonplace. Maybe you had a discussion with a friend who was excited about a trip they are taking soon. Or, maybe you ran into your sibling at the grocery store. Or, maybe you sat in a park feeding pigeons for a few minutes at lunchtime. Whatever experiences come to mind either make a written list of them or a mental list. Pick one and review the details of the experience. What was your sensory experience? Reflect on what you felt, smelled, saw, tasted, and heard at that time.
2. Explore the details of the experience. Take some notes on the other people involved, and where and when the experience occurred. Immerse yourself. Close your eyes if you care to and bring the situation to mind. Consider the seemingly minor details too. For instance, did a car speed by? Did a car alarm go off? Was the television on airing the news?
3. Identify each character’s desires. Consider what the needs are of each person, character, or participant involved in the situation you selected to write about. Clearly, there’s no way we know exactly what another person thought or felt; this is where the story-making—and meaning-making—starts to happen. What we do know is that everyone always has something they hope to accomplish, or has a problem they want to solve. When we look at the motivations and goals of others, mundane situations become more complex; they become an intricate web of needs, goals, and reactions. This is the stuff of stories or the tension in poem.
4. Examine the impact that this experience had on you. How did you feel in your body? How did you feel emotionally? How do you imagine other people were affected by it? Take some notes on how you answer these questions.
5. Put it all together. Now that you have gathered all of your notes, it’s time to let the words flow onto the page. Don’t stop to fix a typo or an incomplete sentence. For some, the impulse to correct a mistake is strong. The problem is, when you succumb to that impulse, you are interrupting the creative flow. You will have time to edit later. Focus on letting it flow and discovering what you have to say as you go.
For more information on free writing, see my tutorial, The Process of Writing: Seven Steps to Help You Avoid Writer's Block and Create Polished, Professional Prose.
Please click the link below to direct you to the online workshop space. You might find it helpful to review the Workshop Agreements & Guidelines before participating. Feel free to share a poem generated from the Writing the Everyday prompt or any other poem that you would like some feedback on.