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.
The workshop was through the Palm Springs Writers Guild.