I arrived at a recent poetry workshop (which I’d been looking forward to) with an allergy headache from hell and medicated with OTC allergy pills. During the four hour event, I went from foggy to foggier. My plight was exacerbated by the windowless classroom having recirculated air. Add puffy, watery eyes, scratchy throat, and a tote full of Kleenex to the mix. Lovely.
(Note: where I live has a high concentration of golf courses. In the fall, the courses are scalped, reseeded, and treated.)
Back to the class. I struggled with a real case of brain fog, trying to absorb new ideas, approaches, and words offered by poet Julie Paegle. Each time we read a poem, I scratched for meaning and connection. Each time we wrote, I couldn’t find the words I wanted or put them in a pleasing order. I mean, I was working to keep afloat. Talk about being uncomfortable. And no way was I gonna read any of my writing aloud.
Several days later I went through my notes and class writings. Despite the headache, despite the scratch outs and restarts, I caught more than I thought.
It was analogous to working on a story or essay for several hours, emerging unhappy, feeling you’d written garbage, and returning the next day to find some of it could work. I found my class writings had a few springboards I could build on. (Okay, some of what I wrote wasn’t so hot.)
I also remembered that when I feel uncomfortable, I’m often learning, in fact, doing some of my best learning. The headache just gave more meaning to the word uncomfortable.
The class began with our reading three short pieces to decide if they were poetry or fiction which lead to a brief discussion of poetry and fiction, their differences and purpose.
Then we read a poem by Wallace Stevens called “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and tried our own hand at looking at and writing about a particular classroom object in not thirteen but six different ways.
Next, we each received a poem to read, pick a line or two that talked to us, and write our own poem in response to those lines. The poems came from Poem in Your Pocket, which meant each of the poems we received was different. Mine was “The Shampoo” by Elizabeth Bishop.
Lastly, we did an exercise where we responded to a series of questions to help us reach our sixth sense, our intuition, our deep images. Wonderful.
One discussion proved very helpful. With an emphasis on lyric poetry, Paegle encouraged fiction writers to notice particular moments in a story and stop to attend to that moment. To stop and get the music. This idea coincided with the playing of a video of a flash mob in a train station. Her point? Give the reader a small moment of surprise, music, mystery, and a pause – much as the flash mob stopped the stories of the people in the station and gave them a moment. Translation: dig into some of those special moments in a story for richer meaning and reading, using poetic techniques such as imagery, surprise, metaphor, mood, music, the senses, word choice.
So, what I thought had been four increasingly uncomfortable hours turned out to be rich in discovery and ideas, excavated from allergy fog. Thank you to poet Julie Paegle.
Julie Paegle is a professor in the English Department at California State University San Bernardino, in San Bernardino, CA. Specifically, she is Poetry Coordinator in the MFA Program.
The workshop was through the Palm Springs Writers Guild.
lovely words Carol- I haven’t been able to go outside with the scalping. Asthma medicine always at hand.
Thank you, Judy. It was such a great workshop and I so wish I could have had an unfoggy head. Here’s to the end of the scalping season.
Thank you for sharing about this workshop. I have been leary of writing workshops since the one we took together when you had to stop me from strangling the “instructor”. I think I’d I have liked this one. I wrote a poem yesterday for the first time in almost 20 years. Somehow, after my mother died and I wrote poetry during her dying process, I lost the facility. I’m hoping yesterday was a signal that the creative poetic flow is becoming unburied. Also, you described so well the allergy brain fog. It’s so debilitating.
Oh, groan! I remember that workshop! A real doozy. You would have loved this one. The pace, the uniqueness of the presentation, the ways to dig at ideas, the skill of the teacher. I’m glad you’re poetic flow is re-emerging.
Great post Carol. I loved that you toughed it out and were rewarded for your efforts.
Thank you, Sunny. The day gave new meaning to “when the going gets tough, the tough take out Kleenex.” The workshop was worth it!
Despite the “tough going physical experience, the part of you listening and recording did an excellent job.
Hi, Dolores. The session became most frustrating for me each time we tried our own hand at writing. That’s when the brain fog socked me in. I felt like I was fumbling my way along an 1890’s London street, eerie and encased in fog. Glad you stopped by.
This post is going on my menu bar. Many times I will put a piece aside because I’m frustrated with writing that’s like pulling teeth. Then, I come back and find that some of it is actually workable. But the big Ah hah in this Carol is the advice of picking a moment and for a bit stopping the movement to smell the flowers, or lie down and make a snow angel. You’re becoming my writing guru Carol. Thank you.
It’s amazing what can happen. I think I just need to shut off my inner critic and write, just tell the story. Then go back later and begin the craft revisions. Always glad you stop by and that you find something that talks to you.
Sounds like an amazing workshop, and that you got a lot out of it!
I did, in spite of myself. At the time, I kept fighting the urge to leave. So glad I didn’t.