- I argued the usefulness of writing “with something at stake” and walking up to the edge of sentimentality in order to discover something truer and realer. I challenged them to take emotional risks. To hold nothing back. You can always come back from the edge in revision.
- We considered the notion that “public resonance”—making sure our own story finds linkages in the outerworld, perhaps through the use of literary allusion or references to shared public events or symbols—is one way to assure that the poem is not only expressive, but also communicative.
- We agreed that brevity is thrilling, and this was demonstrated when one participant shared a draft of a poem that was perhaps, nine words long in total. We all oohed at that one.
- We spoke of paying attention to the world around us; becoming “fierce noticers,’ as writer Karen Anderson has described it.
- We spoke of the potency of concrete nouns and sensual imagery. Ideas and emotion reside here more than in abstraction.
- We read this fine poem by Jack Ridl, and discussed the logic of randomness, the meaning making capacities of our minds, and how to find more in the mundane aspects of our lives. (A former student Amelia called this “stroking the mundane, and I think that’s about right.)
I also offered some thoughts on the Personal Lyric, which is a mode many writers find compelling, especially when they begin to write out of personal turmoil or trauma. Gregory Orr argues that these forms are crucial to our psychological, emotional and spiritual well being. In other words, when we’re overwhelmed, the act of writing and revision helps us to make sense and meaning out of what feels like chaos or nonsense. Writing helps restore the integrity of the self, acts as a stay against confusion, and shifts our relationship to experience, in some cases, providing a new perspective (relief from subjectivity) and even empowerment. Writing lyric poetry can be a stabilizing act for the writer, and evidence to the reader that someone else also “survived” the particular experience in question.
- I proposed that free-writing and improvisation builds the fortitude necessary to undertake other daily acts of rebellion, for example allowing ourselves to muse or be lost in the act of creation without attachment to product or outcome.
I asked everyone to consider the following:
“The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is … Experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others.” Christian Wiman, Mortify Our Wolves
In other words: The poem must not fetishize our private experience. It must be more than personal. At it’s best, we can write something authentic that can catalyze recognition in our readers.
We also looked at a reading by one of my favorite spoken word poets, Anis Mojgani. I’ve seen him perform live on two occasions, and have searched the web for the best recordings. This one always stirs strong reactions when I share it with other writers. Enjoy.