Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What I Love About Teaching Poetry Workshops

The Joy of Writing in 2018

As the world outside my control becomes crazier and crazier, I am more thankful than I've ever been for poetry. Poetry is my longest relationship --- literally I began writing poetry as a child (thank you to Miss Schiavo, my third grade teacher). I think "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carol might have been my personal change agent.

I caught the attention of my middle school teachers and my poem, "Who Am I?" (no link here!) was the text for my middle school graduation. It was a truly surreal experience to hear my words coming out of different classmates' mouthes. I don't remember being proud, just simply stunned.

College was an entirely different story. Two male professors went out of their way and take me aside to deliver the bad news: you aren't a poet --- perhaps try children's books? Had I asked them? No. Dear Reader, I believed these two pompous fools and I put poetry away for nearly  a decade.

Perhaps this is why I became a professor and community facilitator of poetry.

My favorite teaching is collaborative. When Kelli Russell Agodon and I teach together, magic happens. I love our planning sessions, filled with laughter which makes for a great incubator for new ideas. And yes, we are teaching together soon! New Writing for Surreal and Uncertain Times and 21 Ways to Get Your Poems Seen By Editors.

Here we are in bed with Elizabeth Austen giving a poetry reading in pajamas!

I love that our teaching philosophy is based on playfulness. We invite students of poetry who are experienced (many have several publications, books, and MFA's) as well as the individual just wanting to enjoy a day of writing for herself. The way we structure the class seems to work for whomever comes along --- and many of our students return again and again which is something we never expected.

Here's what I believe: writing in a supportive environment when the rules are: be playful and yes, anything goes are a great recipe for success. Unlike most other workshops, we focus on creating our own writing prompts (new ones for each class) and for each one, we have a secret mission whether it is to write image driven poems or create new forms --- everyone leaves with at least six drafts of six poems they never would have written otherwise. Kind of wonderful.

I asked Kelli what she liked about our teaching and I love her answer:

I love teaching with Susan because our friendship brings a deeper element to the class. There is a lot of fun and laughter throughout the day no matter what we're discussing. We also have different opinions on things and we are able to share two ways of seeing things while respecting each others' views. The class gets the benefit of two poets for the price of one. We just go to work!

I love that the themes of fun and laughter show up for both of us. And we share that with each student. Past participants regularly mention that having Kelli and me teach as a team is what makes the classes work so well. Friendship and poetry are a great combination. In fact, we have each written poems for each other as well. Here's one for Kelli called 4 'o' Clock News in the House of Sky published by Diode Editions (a fabulous on-line journal).

If you are in the Seattle area or want to come visit (high today is 46 degrees) whether you are old or young, inexperienced or experienced, and no matter your gender --- YOU ARE INVITED!

And here is the "snack" -- please consider joining Kelli Russell Agodon and me on Saturday, February 10th, for our Winter Retreat (it's a long weekend so a great time to come to Seattle).

All the information you need is right here to register or for more details on each class. And if you sign up with a friend, the price goes down!

It would be lovely to meet you this February 10th! Seattle has an all-poetry bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium and many amazing gorgeous parks, fabulous restaurants, and fine writers. Why not come visit?  Or if you already live here --- all the better! We would love to have you and you are sure to leave with a half dozen new and different poems!

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