Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Yesterday was my first day-of-poetry-instruction, meaning that I had my first Senior Citizens' Writing Workshop of the new year as well as my poetry-focused creative writing course at the U of Wpg.

This is my fourth session (and second year) facilitating the poetry segment of the Writing Workshop. In the fall, I'd had my doubts if I had the energy, expertise, and curriculum to continue. And then, because M's grandmother died in November, throwing off all of our routines, I even missed one of my sessions.

I was mortified, of course, but this crowd, more used to these sort of interruptions than other demographics, couldn't care less. They stayed and workshopped their work themselves - poems that alluded to one of their worst moments but didn't name names - and crowed and mourned and exulted.

And then they started phoning and emailing to tell me how splendid I was as a teacher. Mostly because their work had started humming over the past few months and they could feel it.

And then the volunteer president of the workshop, Gisela Roger, won first prize in The Writers Collective poetry contest.

I was both proud and humbled by my third place finish in the same contest but resolved to think of this as a chance to share my work with people that wouldn't otherwise see it, the people who didn't read lit mags or follow lit websites.

Because it should be only about sharing the work and not about anything peripheral like winning or placing in lieu of showing.

And I was proud of Gisela, because she stood at the podium and let her poem take over. Because afterwards, the Free Press representative, Gerald Flood, came up to me and muttered admiringly about the power of the poem and the power of the woman giving it to the room.

Yesterday, we workshopped the assignment I'd hustled over to them just before they broke for the holidays. And, again, the poems had power. And grace. And humour. And it was wonderful just to be there.

And then we did a co-operative poem based on the one Leaf Press did, the call for which I was sent but didn't manage over the holidays.

Afterwards, I set them another assignment, something I was calling A backyard moment. Our examples were by Wendy Morton via Leaf Press' Monday's Poem archives and Mary Oliver via The Writers' Almanac.

In order to complete the assignment, they had to follow these instructions:
1. Write a poem about a winter moment in your backyard.

2. The poem doesn’t have to be about anything specific (like birds, for instance) but it has to be about something you’ve worked on, something you care about.

3. Think about what the snow covers and what it reveals. Think about who and what inhabits your backyard and how you co-exist with it/them.

And then I hustled over to the U of Wpg, where I was shocked to realize that in course of my varied education, in English and biology and journalism, I'd never learned terms like 'end-stopped' and 'enjambed' and even 'caesura.'

I'd been using the techniques these terms described for aeons but didn't have names for them. And while being able to use the techniques is the more important side of the equation, to my mind, it was nice to be able to stick a pin in each, to name and number them.

So I was quieted and sort of humbled all over again. But glad. Because even though I'd asked myself a little despairingly after the first class, if I really needed to be there, I know that I'll learn things. I just need to keep quiet and humble and tell myself its about the work.

Which is good exercize, because I'm a bit of a blowhard. Because my ego around writing poetry and where I should be is sometimes a pair of pants that are a little too tight.

And, so after dinner and bedtime for the squisher, I spent the evening in the Gary Geddes anthology we'll be using in the course.

Today I have to explicate a poem from the anthology.

And I'm glad and quiet and proud when my mind alights on poetry, mine and that of people I work with, like the members of the senior citizens' writing workshop, like the writers from near and far that have become friends and colleagues over the last several years.

I'm proud of all of us, goddamn it. Because this work, this life, is a good way to spend a life.

And I wanted to note that while also procrastinating just slightly in the writing of my explication. (And contemplating, for the first time, doing one of my own assignments...)



Brenda Schmidt said...

Nice! It is a very good way to spend life. :)

tracy said...

10.000 egos will give you such a crick in the neck!!


I agree. It's a great life, if you don't weaken.

Okay, enough with the cliche, I still agree, it's humbling to find you can always learn something, but strangely exhilarating all at the same time.

Ariel Gordon said...

Oh, I weaken. I'm just not weakened right now...

This post is more me reciting my poetry-writing-mantra than anything else. But still. It needs to be recited.

Anita Daher said...

Congratulations! This is all so fabulous :-)

Shawna Lemay said...

And an excellent poetry writing mantra it is.

joyce said...

I saw your piece in the paper! I did, I did!