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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thank you, Ian LeTourneau

Thank you, Ian LeTourneau

“A poem freshens the world.”  
So wrote the US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser.
To learn more about how a poem freshens the world and the craft of poetry, I participated in “The Basics of Poetry Writing: How to Transform Ideas into Poems” with instructor Ian LeTourneau.  The daylong workshop was part of the 37th Annual Maritime Writers’ Workshops sponsored by University of New Brunswick.
The focus was to strengthen skills in the craft of poetry, using metaphor, imagery and the poetic line.  The goal was not to create a masterpiece in one day, but to study and learn more about the basic tools for poetry writing, using explanation, writing exercises, examinations of sample poetry and sharing of our own pieces.  This was indeed what we did.
We seven students and Ian talked; the dialogue shed light on questions about technique and this in turn opened doors and pushed us beyond familiar territories.  We began with warm-up exercises on imagery:
*working like a _________________________________
*cold as _______________________________________
*as unpredictable as_____________________________
*as red as_____________________________________
And as we shared (all of us shared, including Ian), it was helpful to hear how others’ minds worked; it generated creativity.  It helped to learn that the instructor, a published poet, went through the same processes, he was teaching us to use.  Each workshop participant was at the same time dealing with the same technique, and was focusing on the same assignment, so we became interested in and learned from the work of each other.
We examined “My Shoes” by Charles Simic, “X-ray” by Dave Hickey and “Ode to a Stinging Jelly-fish (Portuguese Man-O-War)” by Roger Nash.  We admitted to feeling jealous of their abilities, all the while admiring their poems.
We created enlarged images from our initial warm-up exercises.  Here is mine:
Birth and Death
Dark eyes are red.
She’s just given birth,
a son,
for a husband who
runs around,
and she is raw,
red as fresh road-kill
bleeding out.
We set up our own metaphors, created lists of similarities, noted associations and connections, searched for fresh ways to make our poetry bits and nubs leap to life.  Ian encouraged us to make our images stretch, to do more work, to connect with emotions, to enrich details, to freshen the world.  The lists exploded and we picked a concrete image to begin.
I worked on a metaphor between hand-churning old-fashioned ice-cream and the beginnings and subsequent survival of a couple’s relationship.  It’s a work in progress so I won’t share it here but it has potential and I was content with accomplishing a good start.
The workshop participants shared exercises, beginnings of poems, great lines and shitty lines.  We laughed and we learned.  We talked about titles and how to make them work for our poems.  We talked about line breaks and ways to milk meaning, and yet more meaning from spaces, and ways to still or rush a clause to illuminate with surprises. 
Ian shared this from “Paradise Lost” by John Milton:
Of what he was, what is, and what must be
We understood the line break and spacing suggested another meaning.
Our minds stretched through writing exercises, using restrictions.  One assignment was to use the same five words in each stanza of a two stanza poem; the words were plain, light, glass, river, shadow.  Mine follows.

The river is glass-still
reflects light and shadow,
root to root, stem to stem,
plain and perfect
at full tide.

The tide shifts,
stabs the glass,
ripples spread,
shadows wrinkle,
shake the light.
The river plain begins
to shimmer and dance.

Not good poetry certainly, but you have the idea.
At the end of the day, we shared poems we had brought with us; not an easy thing to do, like giving birth and hearing someone say, “Gosh, that’s an ugly baby.”  It was helpful to listen to the responses and suggestions, to know the others were sharing their thoughts about what worked and what needed tweaking or a complete overhaul.  It was another way to learn.  And my day was all about learning.
The workshop emphasized that writing a poem was a passionate relationship between craft and seriousness of endeavour.  It took place in a crucible, where the wild unfettered mind met the responsible, purposeful self and laboured with fervor and desire, with ability and honest work and created a fresh way in which to perceive our world.
The workshop day was well spent.  My time, my money and my energy were well spent.  I was grateful for the opportunity to work with Ian LeTourneau and to learn from the others.
I hope to learn more next year, hope to attend the full week and follow courses on other genres of writing, on editing, on pitching a story and on publishing.  I hope to get acquainted with other poets and writers and continue to learn new ways to freshen the world through my own writing.
For now… thank you, Laurie Glenn Norris for organizing with the University of New Brunswick, for the Maritime Writers’ Workshops and especially, thank you, Ian LeTourneau, for the gift of yourself.
I’ll see you next year.

 If you click on the words in red, you will go to another website with additional information.


Deborah Carr said...

Wonderful post, Carol. I would say this was a valuable workshop. I wish I could have attended - I know so little about writing poetry. I manage to stumble through a bit of it now and then. I look forward to seeing your metaphor of hand-churned ice cream!

Mary said...

Thanks for the visit to my blog, leading me to visit yours. What a wonderful opportunity you had. And the exercises you did sound very inspiring...plus the opportunity to interact with other poets would be a touch of heaven.

I was in New Brunswick once...beautiful there, and truly would love to return!!

Carol Steel said...

Hello Deb,
Thank you for your comment. It was indeed a valuable workshop. I am working on the other poem but it needs lots more work before sharing.

Carol Steel said...

Hello Mary,

The workshop was a wonderful opportunity. The exercises were good starters on the way to real poetry. The thing I most need is the interaction with other writers and poets. The feedback is helpful. And yes, New Brunswick is a beautiful place. Thanks for your comments.

Sally Wendkos Olds said...

And thank you, Carol, for sharing the process of the workshop and your poetry in this and other posts. I'm enjoying them.

Carol Steel said...

Thank you Sally for the comment, encouragement and support. All appreciated so much.

Maude Lynn said...

That sounds fabulous! I would love to do something like that.

Crafty Green Poet said...

that sounds like an excellent workshop and a very thorough write up! Your poem about Birth and death is very powerful.

And a weird co-incidence, your assignment to use the same five words in a each stanza of a two stanza poem, I've used that exact assignment in a workshop I facilitated, I think you know my poem Parallel Realities? That was the poem that came out of the exercise for me!

Carol Steel said...

Thanks Mama Zen,

It was a great workshop. I appreciated that Ian worked right along with us on each assignmnet and then shared what he had written too. That in itself was a powerful lesson...good poetry takes lots of work, even once the skills are mastered.

Carol Steel said...


Your poem "Parallel Realities" uses 6 words and one refrain repeated in each of two stanzs, and does it so smoothly the reader doesn't notice the repetition so much as feels it deep inside. That's the point, isn't it? To write poetry in which the means and tools of writing don't attract attention, rather the poem itself offers a fresh way to view the world.

Thanks for your comments on my write up and my small poem.