Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Day of Poetry

This past Friday I held a Day of Poetry at my house. This is something I've done a few times before. Here's how it goes: I invite a gang of girl poets to my house, 10:30 AM to about 4:00 PM. These are women who are good poets and who enjoy doing prompts and spending a day just concentrating on generating new work.

After some preliminary yakking, we sit in a circle in my family room and take turns giving each other prompts. Four of the poets have been asked to bring a prompt and mine makes #5. After each prompt is given, we take 20 minutes for drafting. I keep a timer by my chair and am fairly firm about not adding more time. There's something very creative, I think, about the squeeze of a time limit. No time to think or worry, just to write. Then we go around the circle and each poet reads her draft. This is a safe way to share first drafts as it's what everyone has in front of her. There's no expectation of perfection.

We offer minimal commentary, no official critiquing. My belief is that the poet ought to have an opportunity to revise and revise before receiving serious responses. But we offer appreciative hmm's and ahh's. We comment on what knocked us out. Then we move onto the next prompt.

We did two in the morning session. Then we broke for lunch. I provided sandwiches and a pasta salad. The three poets who hadn't brought prompts each contributed something to the lunch—a fruit salad, cheese and crackers, cookies. The weather was nice to us and did not rain as had been threatened, so three of us ate outside on the patio while four ate in the kitchen. Good food and good poetry talk. We were well fed in every way. There was no happiness like ours.

Then we returned to our circle and did three more prompts. So by the end of the day we each had drafts for five new poems! I expect to get several keepers out of the batch, and I know the others will too.

Now I've heard some poets say they don't like prompts. I've heard the implication that real poets don't use prompts, don't need prompts. Well, I'm a real poet, and I love prompts. Bring them on. I get goose bumps if I just know someone is going to give me a prompt. I almost always end up writing something that works in some way. I always write something I would not have written without the prompt. I might have written the poem I wrote to my own prompt, but definitely not the others. If nothing else, a day of poetry is good exercise.

I'm going to give you one of our prompts as a challenge. It's going to be in two parts, so you'll do the first part today, then return tomorrow for the next part. This prompt was provided by Susan Rothbard.

Choose any two letters. Most of us used our own initials, but it could be your favorite food, song, whatever. Then brainstorm a substantial list of phrases that use those two letters, eg, dreadful loser, desperate lady, desirous of lemons. Note that you are allowed to add a few surrounding or in-between words.

See you tomorrow.

Poets getting ready to write: Mary Florio, Susan Rothbard, Jean Meyers

Poets waiting for lunch: Jean Meyers (in back), Jessica deKoninck, Susan Rothbard, Sandra Duguid

Svea Barrett and Mary Florio after lunch

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  1. What a lovely day to spend a day! Congratulations,

  2. I chose my letters (K,M) and then realized that I was in a bit of a pickle with next instruction! I know that I will come up with more, but currently the only K word I am coming up with is kill! Oh, dear...

    I will be back tomorrow! :)

  3. ALL poets use prompts. It's called inspiration. The child you see watching an anthill might be the prompt. The way the light changes on the water is a prompt. Susan asking you to start with 2 letters works too.

    For me, having someone suggest a place to begin is a good discipline for writers (even if you go somewhere else with that suggestion), and I've found a good number of poets who wouldn't write as often if they didn't have workshops/prompts.

  4. Yes, Anny. Next time you should come over from Italy and join us!

    Susan--hey, how about using "kill" as the first word in each phrase? Could be interesting.

    Ken--I agree completely. I love prompts for a number of reasons, one of which is that they take me out of myself, put me off-course, send me somewhere I would not have gone on my own.

  5. Sounds like fun. I like prompts.
    Sometimes I know I need a good kick in the fanny of my mind to get moving.

  6. Hey, Diane, I am anonymous. I didn't enter my post as anonymous but it came up that way. Today is computer problem day for me.



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