Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The Writer's Life: How to Have a Great Poetry Group
1. Good food and lots of wine. (And the truth is I hardly drink.) Everyone feels better with something to nibble and a little to drink. It keeps the mood light and festive and often keeps the energy high.
2. Generous hearts. We always begin with praise. After the poet reads their poem and then the poem is read a second time by another person in the group, we start with what we loved.
3. Strong critique. The act of praise allows for a deeper entry into the poem. What questions arise? Where does a poem drift? Is "worn underwear" too distracting? Oftentimes there are passionate differences in what the group wants from a poem. This means we need to support our ideas and the conversations are exploratory rather than prescriptive.
4. A range of poets -- but not a whirlwind. There are nine of us on nights when everyone attends - usually we have seven or eight people. Some poets focus more on the natural world, others are working on historical projects, still others do something utterly different each month. While we would probably all agree that the poem needs a certain "sense" --- our styles are somewhat diverse. Although after years of working together, perhaps not as diverse as we once were...
5. Traveling from house to house. So that no one poet shoulders the burden (or power) of hosting, we each take turns offering our homes. This leads to a variety of houses all over the city. I like having the group at my house in the summer when we can be outside -- and also during Christmas break. When the group meets at my house I can choose which poet starts us off. The host for the evening in some ways sets the tone.
6. A delicate balance. Groups are alive, ours consists of people with busy lives and complex relationships to poetry and the world. As it should be. I'm sometimes amazed that we can come together, share such an intimate pursuit, laugh a great deal, and come away with renewed energy for a craft most of us actually take quite seriously. Each time we meet I am grateful again that this delicate balance of different souls endures.