Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Writer's Life: How to Have a Great Poetry Group

I think poetry would be a great deal less fun without my poetry group. The South Grand Street Poets have been meeting for almost twenty years (give or take a year). I've been a member for five years and hope my membership never expires. This is my third writing group in Seattle and so I deeply appreciate the chemistry that makes for the success of this group. Here are just a few observations of what contributes to the overall positive atmosphere.

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.

5 comments:

  1. Great post.

    I'm part of several online groups of poets, one of which holds poetry jams on Twitter that are a lot of fun. Though we are all over the U.S. and Canada, we have a closeness that gives lie to the notion that friendships and more can come from social networking. I do wish, however, at least some of us lived in the same area, because it would be so much fun to gather as your group does.

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  2. Maureen, I'm interested that you can work together so well without "knowing" each other in the way face to face contact allows. I'm impressed - If I didn't have such a strong community in Seattle - it would be tempting to experiment on-line. That would also mean I'd need to be writing more than I am at the moment. I would love to hear more of what makes your group(s) work.

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  4. Hi Susan - I've bee missing you on Facebook! I guess you've been putting your energies here, which makes sense. Hope all is well with you and your book. I try to visit your blog as I can... not as frequently as I'd like. All best to you and your third baby! Thanks again for all of your help with "the application," which I much appreciate... —Mari

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  5. Fun post Susan.
    BTW: we are not "Street" poets. *wink*
    Our name is South Grand Poets.

    So good to see you at Skagit!

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