Dive Into Poetry

Lately I haven’t been as active on this blog as I had planned to be. But it’s not because I’ve been lazy. It’s because I’ve been writing, in new and unexpected ways. I am taking a one-month poetry class and it’s a chest of wonders. Dive Into Poetry is a quarterly celebration run by Jena Schwartz, and it’s been recommended to me by a precious writer, photographer, world traveler, stargazer, and friend, Tammy MacKenzie.

Since receiving Tammy‘s recommendation, I’ve been following Jenna’s FB page and website constantly. Jena’s website is beautiful, powerful, vulnerable, and personal. It roars with an intense passion for writing and for sharing this passion, with fresh energy, and with mindful advice for writers of all levels. Speaking of roaring, Jena runs an inspiring and empowering weekly column called The Roar Sessions. You may wish to give it a try and submit something.

My goal when I signed up for Dive Into Poetry – as I’ve also openly declared on our FB group – is to reconnect to my adolescent poetry-writing self. I used to write a lot of poetry as a teenager, but somehow gradually gave it up, and focused more on fiction and creative non-fiction in recent years. But when class started last week, I found so much more inside this group than I had ever hoped for. We are a group of fifty writers spread around the globe, responding to an image + written (1-2 words) prompt, and to each other’s writing. Jena provides detailed, individualised feedback to each single post.

I love the principles behind Dive Into Poetry. They are very close to my way of teaching fiction. How experienced you are as a writer is irrelevant. The class isn’t focusing on technique, at least not in terms of stanzas, structure, rhyme and rhythm. But writing from a place of openness, investing time and heart in your writing, and receiving genuine positive feedback (and learning how to receive it!) are all things that your writing will benefit from. Some of the core values that I found in this class are:

  • silence your inner critic and open up to possibility;
  • don’t worry if the text you come up with is a poem or not (it is!);
  • allow yourself to dream.

Three times a week, an e-mail with an image and a word associated with it arrives in your mailbox. Three times a week, you are invited to work with these prompts in several ways. Each of us in the FB group responds to the prompts in a different way. Each of us is a unique writer, a unique individual, with a unique voice, processing information and responding to information in a unique way. In such a mutually supportive environment, I feel at home.

This class is a great reminder to make room for more poetry in my life, more often and on a deeper level. If you’re a fiction writer and you’re feeling stuck, poetry can help you find the way in, and then your way out into the world. Dive Into Poetry is a great way to create a regular practice in terms of writing poetry based on simple triggers. One thing I learnt — like when writing fiction — is that even when we set out to write something and we think we know what it is about, the text has a mind and heart of its own and it becomes what it wants to become if we let it happen. It seems so obvious now, but I wasn’t fully aware of it before taking this class. In the end, the trigger is just a trigger and it will show us something we had not been able to put into clear words before, something we possibly knew was there, but not in a fully conscious way. At least this is how I’ve been internalising these exercises.

After less than one week in class, my writing goals have expanded. I want to:

  • enjoy the daydreaming/writing process;
  • write raw and provocative work;
  • share imperfect first drafts that I don’t fully understand, knowing that the other poets in this class might see things that I don’t see yet, which will help me get closer to the essence of what the poem really wants to say.

When I say provocative, I’m not thinking of provoking others. Rather, I hope to be able to constantly provoke myself to stand raw and fresh in my truth, outside of my comfort zone.

To silence my inner critic, I throw him a bone, to keep him busy. I promise him this: “You productivity-driven monster, here’s your pay-off: at the end of the month, you’ll have a chapbook of poems to edit, now let me enjoy each single emerging poem and the simple beauty of dreams and everyday realities turned into words.”

At all stages of our writing and teaching experience (I dislike the word “career” because it implies target rather than wonder), we need mentors. Someone to look up to and someone to show us beauty in our writing when we see little or none. Learning to live and write better, deeper, truer is a life-long process. Mentors come in many shapes. They can be:

  • students offering you the privilege to guide them through their unraveling process;
  • great writers whose writing persists long after we’ve first read their books;
  • the uncensored expression of distinct writing voices, on- and offline, who seek to support each other rather than compete, knowing that each voice is unique and there’s plenty of room out there for everyone;
  • great writing teachers whom we choose to learn from on an ongoing basis.

I would choose Jena again and again as one of those rare mentors who know how to facilitate each student’s unraveling process. We as writers and human beings are all learning from each other, we are all in constant dialogue with other writers, and with the world. If you’re looking for a great poetry class this fall (i.e. in October), look no further: Dive Into Poetry is the one.

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