07 October 2021
Posted by Natalie Young
Saying No and saying YES on National Poetry Day!
This month our Thursday workshop fell on National Poetry Day and we celebrated with a reading of Jacqueline Saphra’s poem, you do not have to be wise you do not have to be kind/you do not have to be right you do not have to be good. This is a poem – it looks like a sonnet - that rushes headlong from its title into a wild, witchy, roaring celebration of women and community and the liberation that comes when a woman learns to say No!
It seemed like a good way to celebrate National Poetry Day and a community workshop for women writers where we come together twice a month to support each other in our collaborative journeys in reading and writing and where so much of our work is about showing up and being brave. Sometimes our initial chat when we meet as a group, as well as sharing tips and contacts, outlets and submission portals, includes comment on our struggles as women to say No to the other demands in our lives, and to make room for our writing, trusting that, as Rhiannon, one of our regular women writers said this week, if you commit to writing, it will commit to you.
We read Saphra’s poem and talked about how it made us feel, and most of the group said it made them feel happy, and free. We used it as a start point for a five-minute free-write exercise, designed to stir up the unconscious material we would work with in creating a fictional piece. I should add that our warmup exercise this morning was an introductory ‘hello’ where each member of the group found one word associated for them with poetry and what it brought into their lives. It was heartening and moving to hear words such as ‘love’, ‘lifeline’, ‘joy’, ‘soul’, ‘prayer’ spoken as we went round the circle, and to know that whatever we are struggling with in our lives as individuals, we share this appreciation and love of the expression of life in lyric and fictional forms. Sometimes the ‘No’ is also about resistance to the anxiety and depression that might keep us from putting pencil to paper just for the sheer love and joy of it.
From there we moved on to James Tate’s poem ‘the Whole World’s Sadly Talking to Itself’ and discussed the title and what the poem might be saying about communication and our ability to listen to each other. This poem also seems to rush forward, spilling words as it goes, and we explored how the shape and movement in the poem highlight the speaker’s agitation and sorrow about his efforts and sense of failure. There’s a ghostly, dreamlike quality to the poem and reading it inspired our next five-minute free-write that began with everyone writing down at the top of the page, ‘the moon was up and I found in the skip a…’. The idea, in so many of our workshops, is to liberate the creative being within and get out beyond the inner critic, learning that with creativity there isn’t any right or wrong, except that a writer does get better through, more than anything, practising her writing. I talk often about the ‘morning pages’ I learned from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Wayand share my own experience of how my writing has changed since I started this practice.
We read Mary Ruefle’s beguiling little poem ‘Sent to the Monk’ and found this an intriguing and inspiring poem about presence and the past and the value of living truly in the moment.
After our break today we worked on some fictional pieces using an exercise in Robert Olen’s Bulter’s book ‘From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction.’ Butler is big on the unconscious as the source of all creativity and suggests ways that the writer can learn to ‘tap in’ and pull from this resource. Following a particular set of instructions and really trying to use the senses through which to communicate to the reader while also resisting summary, explanation and analysis, we were all surprised by the writing we produced this week, and found that, in many cases, it yielded riches from memory.
For me as workshop leader it is such a privilege to work with this group of women who show up, time after time, ready to write and really work at their writing and share what they’ve written and laugh with and support each other. I always come away feeling moved and inspired as a writer and as a woman, and determined to keep finding poems and stories and writing exercises that will fire our imaginations and keep us saying Yesto our creativity and No, as often as we can, to that which might keep us apart.