A Poetic Lesson in Poetry

I should probably write a very long apologetic post about why I haven’t updated this blog in such a long time.  Long story short, I got married.  Okay, not really, ’cause I’ve been married for almost a year, but we finally had our big, fairytale, fantasy wedding here in Wales.  It was gorgeous, it was fun, it was exhausting in a totally exhilarating way.  We had a wonderful time with our family and friends, and the fourteen months we spent planning and designing and bringing it to fruition were absolutely worth it.

 

Note:  this is my brother, not my husband, but until we our professional photos, it's the best I can do.
Note: this is my brother, not my husband, but until we get our professional photos, it’s the best I can do.

 

But then it was over.  Just like that, the excuse I had been using for over a year to explain why I couldn’t focus on anything else was gone.  No more paper flowers to fold, no more lists to check off, no more reception playlist to tweak for the thousandth time.  We moved into our new house, stored all the leftover programs and favors, displayed all the wedding china, Paul went back to work, and after the laundry was in the washer and the breakfast dishes were drying…it was just me and my computer.

 

Nothing happened.

 

One of the main reasons we chose our new house is because it has an extra room that became our office.  We have side-by-side his and her’s desks with a view out the window that is nice, but not distracting.  I put my creative writing diploma on display, lined up all of my craft and technique books and half-scribbled journals, stocked my Star Trek mug full of pens and sat down in my swivel chair, determined to finish any one of the dozen projects on my hard drive, but the most important drive, the one that gets you from prologue to epilogue, was missing.

 

For the record, this blog isn’t just about living the expat life in Wales.  It’s about me, a writer, living the expat life in Wales.  When people ask me what I do, I don’t tell them “I’m an American trying to figure out how to live in the UK.”  I tell them I’m a writer.  This is usually followed by an enthusiastic, “Oh, have you been published?” to which I always have to say, “Just online.”  That is something I am desperate to change, but after a year of constant turmoil and emotional upheaval, I found myself woefully out of shape mentally.

 

I needed a kick in the butt.  I needed to know that whatever talent I possessed once upon a time hadn’t totally faded away.  I just needed one good writing day to erase all of the days I’d given up and wandered onto Buzzfeed.  My wish came true when Paul signed us both up for an all-day poetry class.

 

My history with poetry is unusual.  Although I’ve been trying to write a novel since I was ten (seriously, and I really wish I had that first attempt), I’d always considered poetry pretentious.  Even before I knew what pretentious meant, I passed over the possibility of poetry because it seemed self-indulgent when it was bad and magniloquent when it was good (SAT word for the win!)  Basically, I decided that writing poems was for goth kids and and coffee-house snobs and I would stick to novels and scripts, thank you very much.

 

So, of course, in order to graduate from FSU with a degree in creative writing, I was required to take CRW3311.03, Poetry Technique.

 

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Barbara Hamby was my saving grace.  A very respected, published, award-winning poet, she was also a great teacher (sadly, those two things don’t always go hand-in-hand).  The first poem I handed her was crap and rather than instructing me how to mold the crap, she ordered me to flush it and start over.  That was kind of a gross metaphor, yet one I feel she would approve of, considering it was tangible and visceral.  My next poem earned me a coveted spot on her “best of the week” sheet (all names removed to keep from singling people out, another thing I loved about her).  That semester, through example, encouragement and constructive criticism, Barbara taught me that poetry was just using words to evoke images in order to describe feelings, and that I could do it without being flowery or pompous.  In the spring, she personally asked me to join her Poetry Workshop that summer, a honor that still makes me tingle with pride twelve years later.

 

Although Barbara wanted me to submit the poems I wrote under her tutelage to magazines and reviews, I never worked up the nerve.  And I never wrote poems after that, preferring to focus on my screenplays and stories.  But I also never unlearned the lessons she taught, the most important being the importance of finding and honing and utilizing your own voice, which is as vital to prose as it is to poetry.

 

The first poem I wrote since college was written in the spacious loft of a community center in the tiny English town of Oswestry with my husband, four older, extremely talented women, and an ethereal leader named Bethany around me, furiously writing their own answers to the prompt “The Place I Want to Get Back To.”  Was it great?  No, of course not, I wrote it in ten minutes.  Could it be good?  With some time and effort.  Did it make me want to dance?  Absolutely.  Because I wrote.  I didn’t think, I didn’t agonize, I couldn’t procrastinate, I couldn’t log on to Facebook.  I just put pen to paper and let the words flow.  Then I did it again, then again, then again, until I left that room with six promising poems in my notebook.  Well, okay, five promising poems and one that need never be revisited, but the point is this:  that one day worked.  After all, here I am, updating my blog after way too many weeks.

 

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I am not tapped out, dried up, or blocked.  Yes, this past year has been crazy busy, but it’s also given me a wealth of new writing topics, not the least of which is my new home and the British man I adore.  Fuel for a thousand poems and maybe, just maybe, a book or two.

 

I leave you with a poem that Bethany gave us last weekend.  It is now hanging next to my computer, so I can read it every day.

 

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest, but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

– Mary Oliver

 

Pretty damn inspiring, right?

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4 thoughts on “A Poetic Lesson in Poetry

    1. krieli1 says:

      Bethany is a big fan and now so am I! We ended the class with her poem “Moon and Water,” another new favorite! Thank you so much! Returning the love and hugs; pass them on to everyone in LARA!;)

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