I haven't been blogging as much as usual because I have been preparing to go to the Spring Writers' Retreat offered by the University of New Brunswick. Each participant has sent in 10 pages of their work, which have been circulated to the other students and the instructor for review and comments prior to the retreat. I've done lots of writing, reading and note making.
This week has already given me a couple new opportunities to receive feedback on my poetry: a brief one-on-one meeting with a well-respected writer and editor; and participation in a writers' group meeting. Both have been rich in advice.
For example, an "expected phrase" or "expected word" means I have used a cliche, like "whirling wind" or "a beautiful day." These aren't bad words, just not great ways to paint a picture for someone else to see. Poetry is meant to freshen the world. "To freshen" means to use words in ways that offer new and different perspectives, on something we see in ordinary ways, or we don't see at all.
I discovered that I need to develop a better reading voice. I kill my own work by reading it poorly. I am sharing a story or an experience in a poem; I am not reading the newspaper out loud. I read too quickly without stopping to breathe. This robs a listener of the benefit of the pacing in the piece I've created, and of a chance to process the words. I am so nervous that I'm choking my words and my poetry. Others read with a firm and disciplined modulation, with intensity of feeling (though not over done), and with a different timbre from their regular speaking voice. There is an aura of "This is important. Listen while I share this experience with you. This is how I see the world. Can you see it too?"
It helps to be told, "This word or phrase or structure does work, or doesn't work" and more importantly, to be told why. It helps to hear other poetry and to recognize why and how it is working. It helps to stay away from envy of the poetry written by someone else. This is a hard bit for me. I recognize good poetry; I am thrilled and awed by great poetry. I make myself remember that even those writers had to learn, to try, to write bad poetry as well as good in the learning process.
And that's where I am, in a learning process.
I leave for the Spring Writers' Retreat this afternoon and return on Sunday late in the day, another step on my writing journey. I am both excited and terrified. And isn't that the creative combination I need to crack myself open, to see the world in fresh ways?
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