Old Moon

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bucket List and Teaching

There is probably a list for everyone, and they aren't all the same. Sometimes I suspect we don't know all of the entries. I think I may have checked off one of mine yesterday. Years ago when I first got serious about writing, I longed to go to a full-fledged writers' conference. As it happened, I was close enough to one of the most well-known if I could gather the necessary funds. My ever supportive husband agreed to hold the home fort if I could manage. Thanks to a scholarship on the strength of a short story I submitted, I got to go. The experience is another story. Yesterday, nearly 25 years later, I went to a poetry workshop.

What does one expect of a poetry workshop? After a lifetime of writing the occasional poem, teaching the usual (well, maybe not so usual) poetry units to high school students, my concentration until recently has been on prose--nice, carefully worded, it is to be hoped grammatical and clear prose. Poetry, however, has captured my attention since I have needed its therapeutic effects so much more than ever before, so I decided to try this out.

It's only fair to add that one reason I wanted to do this was that one of the presenters (?) leaders(?) (teachers?) was to be the editor who has been such a help and support on my novel-in-progress. I wanted to meet him.

As this was my first acquaintance with such an activity, I cannot compare with anything else. The time allotted was short, less than an hour. By using one basic technique (new to me) and  a wonderfully layered poem as an example, he taught us would-be poets a lesson that is doubly useful: one way to evaluate another poet's work, and a means of testing our own. If the price had been double its modest $10, it would have been worth it.

Talented teachers are among my biggest heroes. It doesn't really matter how they arrived or where they got their inspirations or their own lessons.  My first big conference had Joyce Carol Oates as the keynote speaker. She taught us that all art (in her opinion) derives from play. Now I can recall much of the argument she offered in support of that idea. One of the lecturers on fiction was Madison Smartt Bell, who first used in my hearing the wonderful term "architecture of fiction." These brief catch phrases serve to remind me of the points being made in those inspiring lectures, and now the "end words" of poetic lines highlighted by Richard Krawiec are added to my by-words as a writer.

These teachers are as rare as black tulips and blue roses. So herewith advice to aspirants in any field:  if you can find one of these special people, take anything they have to offer.

1 comment:

Glenda Beall said...

Joan, I do agree with you. Many writers seem to think they already know all there is to know, but every time I take a class with a good poet or writer, I learn something new or something very worthwhile.
I am a teacher but I am more a student of writing and love to hear good writers speak and teach.