Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a poetry workshop for a local sixth form. It was a joy. A nerve-wracking joy, but a joy nonetheless. In a previous life I worked as a tutor for a major optical retailer and one of my favourite things was reaching what I think of as the “aha” moment – the point when I see a light go on and feel that the group is onboard with me, and what I’m saying.
Poetry is a bridge between two people
Forty-five minutes isn’t long to create an atmosphere of excitement around poetry, but by the end of the session I received comments like “it’s easier than I thought” which is exactly what I set out to do. Poetry is given a mystique that I believe serves as a barrier. It’s a whirl of baffling terms, secret tricks and general otherness that can have the effect of making people consider that poetry is “not for them”. It’s a real sadness. I began yesterday’s session with an extract from this this interview with
‘Poetry and language, to me, is the DNA of our personhood. Ultimately for me, writing is a bridge between two people, a bridge made of language. And language belongs to all of us. If I enjoy a poem, that means I am recognizing within it something of myself, something I must already possess”Ocean Vuong in the PBS Summer Bulletin
Ocean Vuong “Poetry is a bridge between two people”. By creating roadblocks to this bridge, people miss out on one of the most ancient forms of communication and connection.
Now, you may be about to misunderstand. I’m not saying there is no place for such delightful terms as trochee, amphibrach or kyrielle. Far from it – understanding and exploring these terms is a way in to experimentation and creation. What I challenge is whether understanding these terms is essential to connect with poetry. The academisation of the arts keeps those of us without the necessary cash or education firmly in our place and puts people off trying to break in to a world that seems to be nothing but barriers.
There are wonderful ways in. Literary magazines are, by and large, incredibly inclusive. Publishers actively highlight their desire to receive submissions from underrepresented groups. The sadness is that without a spark of joy and possibility, many people dismiss the very idea that they can write, much less consider that they should as a means of managing mental health and expressing emotion.
“Poetry creates avenues for self-expression that cannot be felt through other means of communication. This in itself can be a healing and restorative process, a self-guided therapy that allows us to strengthen our mental health and connection to ourselves, and to those around us.” DH Xiang
Creating access to poetry, demystifying it and offering a way in to this most fundamental act of self-expression is something that I realise means a huge amount to me. Reading and writing in general, and poetry in particular is a lifeline to me and an anchor in the darkest times. Knowing that I’ve given a glimmer of an idea that poetry is for everyone and knowing that even a few of the students I had the privilege of working with yesterday gained something from our all too brief session has inspired and renewed my enthusiasm and perhaps diluted the ever-present imposter syndrome. I’m building plans to expand my workshop offering, taking advantage of the gorgeous woods nearby and creating space to explore nature and language. The fact that glimmers of sunlight are illuminating the hazel catkins I see from my desk can only be a sign.
Poetry as priority
My week has seen the end of the wonderful Nine Arches Press Kickstart your writing course – and what a wonderful end it was. I adore Tania Hershman’s work, and spending two hours exploring the brilliance of brevity in poetry was nothing short of magical. I have a renewed vigour for my own work, and the power of cutting back. Perhaps it’s the gardener in me, but I am ever more enthusiastic about pruning my poems. Roses bloom on new growth and perhaps by cutting a few straggly stems I can let the reader in and let the essence of the poem bloom.
The combination of Tania’s workshop with Spelt Magazine’s Dawn Chorus week has meant that I have enjoyed an especially creative week. The Dawn Chorus is such a simple, effective idea. Writing together, with one of Wendy Pratt’s gently brilliant prompts to get us started, it’s a way of enhancing my discipline of rising early to write. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. Learning that yet another of my copywriting clients is reducing their commission volume has placed me in a mind that poetry, flash fiction, short fiction needs to be put at the forefront of my days. I won’t deny I’m trying to Pollyanna my way out of worry by seeing this recent reduction in conventional work as a “solution opportunity” (don’t you love management speak). I’ve long been perturbed by the fact that I place “my” writing is very much last on the list – now the decision has been made for me. I’m hoping this downturn will be short, but for now I’m going to embrace the extra time I have and create beautiful work that is indeed a bridge between two people.
Thank you for reading!
Until next time,
Source: Xiang DH, Yi AM. A Look Back and a Path Forward: Poetry’s Healing Power during the Pandemic.