Poetry By Firehose

Well, I'm two weeks into my Poetry By Firehose class (known to the rest of the world as Intermediate Poetry with Deborah Keenan) and I'm starting to feel my groove. It's not exactly the groove I wanted it to be - more on that later -, but it's the right groove for now and I'm going with it.

This class is intense and the pace is fast. I wasn't sure what to expect from Deborah Keenan as a teacher, but it's clear that she comes prepared and ready to work. She has any number of poems/handouts ready to work from at each session from a wide array of working poets (in other words, not only Dead Poets whose names we all know but who aren't working anymore, and who really don't need any more fame than they already have won for themselves). She is all business, and moves from point to point to point. Until it's time to read a poem. Then her husky voice slows, and she reads the poem with a hushed reverence. When someone reads poetry well, it reminds me of why I love it so much: because it's not just words; it's music, too.

Deborah has a gift for quickly deconstructing a poem, and finding several jumping off points for new poems, things to work on, ideas to try. I appreciate this approach, since it's a way I have always worked - but my process has, until now, been more intuitive (known also as Beginner's Luck) than technically skilled. One of my goals for myself during the class is to learn these skills of deconstruction and identifying pathways into new work, to make them more part of my toolbox instead of lucky breaks I stumble into from time to time.

As it stands, I have about twenty-five jumping off points/things to work on/things to try; that's an average of twelve per class. The pace of my writing has not kept up with the pace of Deborah Keenan's identification of things to try. I have four or five new drafts, or attempts at drafts. For several days, this meager productivity was bothering me. I kept thinking, It's only a six week class. I should try to write as much as I can so I can get a lot out of the class!

But guess what: the rest of my life isn't slowing down just because I'm taking a poetry class. So, after briefly considering giving up on poetry altogether (silly girl!), I had a gentle talk with myself about living the chapter of my life that I'm in right now; about writing the poems that come and waiting for those that don't; about trusting that there will be time to write all the poems, someday; about how putting crazy pressure on oneself is a creativity-squelcher. The Mom Trying to Write is more contented after that little talk, and accepts that she's still a Mom Trying to Write.

This week, we had the chance to read our own work in class and to receive feedback from fellow students (writers call this process "workshopping"). Workshopping one's poems is always a little nerve-wracking in a new group, but following Deborah's lead, everyone was very gentle and respectful, but also challenging and frank, with each other's work. And Deborah herself was as well. What she said about my poem: "I have a feeling that there's gold in Molly's next draft." What nicer way can you think of to say, "It's coming but it's not quite there"? So, I appreciate that in an instructor: someone who can support the work of her students but still push them, in a kind way, for something better. My first writing teacher, Valerie Sayers, is just the same way and I have always respected that about her as well.

All in all, it has been energizing to jump with both feet into six weeks of fast-paced poetry and learning. Just the thing for poetry month, which is coming up in April (stay tuned for lots of April-Is-Poetry-Month here at Both Fires). In the meantime, here's a little poetry to tide you over until then. First my draft** (the one with gold underneath it....... somewhere....... I just haven't found it yet.......), and a poem from Deborah Keenan:

--this draft has been removed--

From Grief by Deborah Keenan, which begins with children outside the window playing the statue game, and one little girl who can't be still:

"I want to be that girl on the dark green lawn
who cannot hold her position. When you leave me
again my mouth will be open, screaming, my legs
running in your direction. And I don't even want
to stop you, only desire my composure shattered,
my body not held in check. I want to be calling
you back with all the codes broken, so you will
know the grief is alive and not considered."

From Willow Room, Green Door.

(**Yes, I know I said in this post that I wouldn't be posting as much poetry here, but really, that idea has just made me feel sad. So I'm going to try to find a middle course: post some of my poems from time to time, and maybe have them disappear after a while if I decide to send them out into the world.)

1 comment:

CitricSugar said...

Good for you for starting a new class and for the little talk you had with yourself. I think the effects of a class like this one are a bit like cheese. They start out fresh and hurried and gung-ho like a young mozzarella but if you just let them age a bit, they get very complex like an old nippy cheddar. You'll put your new skills to practice right away but they'll strengthen considerably (and almost without notice) over time. So there's another reason not to stress about the lack of output. You're gathering up all the curds, Molly, and once you get some of the whey out of the way, then you'll have your gold.

(PS. I am very sorry I've compared your skills and poetry to cheese. But I mean it in the best possible way. Cheese is one of the greatest things in the world. :-)