Monday, May 18, 2009

I've been invited, once again, to teach a poetry workshop at the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance weekend writing retreat in September. This will be my third appearance on the MWPA retreat faculty, and the gig always gives me great pleasure. Not only is it held at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, located on one the most beautiful sections of the Maine coast, but I got my own writing break as a very nervous participant in an MWPA workshop. It was the first workshop I'd ever attended, I had two small children at home, I didn't know any other writers at all, and I was scared to death. So to come back as faculty is a distinct happiness for me.

Here's the course description I submitted this morning to the director, and I'm delighted to say that I've already heard from three people who plan to attend. So if anyone out there has questions about how the workshop will function or is otherwise squeamish about the prospect, please do contact me. In the past, the number of participants has been limited to 12, and the classes have always been filled.

Just know that you can't be more squeamish than I was. Even so, that invitation into the world of poetry changed my life. I don't promise to do the same for you, but I do promise to try.

The Mechanics of Passion: A Poetry Revision Workshop

What is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected of him? . . . However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the character of a Poet, it is obvious, that while he describes and imitates passions, his employment is in some degree mechanical, compared with the freedom and power of real and substantial action and suffering.

--William Wordsworth, preface to Lyrical Ballads

Most of us are inspired to write poems because something, be it landscape, incident, or memory, has moved us to articulate a powerful emotion. Yet as we struggle to capture that emotion in words, we quickly find ourselves enmeshed in the mechanics of language—in Wordsworth’s terms, imitating passion rather than experiencing it firsthand. Nevertheless, these mechanical elements of language—grammar, syntax, punctuation—are the tools of our trade: our artisan link to readers and listeners as well as a conduit into our own inner lives.

          In this workshop, participants will focus on the structure of the English language as the foundation of revision. We'll discuss your poems in process, studying how the mechanical elements within these early drafts express or conceal your intentions; and we'll consider possible avenues for change. The workshop is open to writers at all levels, experienced or novice, and previous publication is neither necessary nor important. Participants should bring twelve copies of two poems in process, each no longer than a page. Please don't bring finished work; save that for the participants' reading on Saturday evening. Our goal here is to study the craft of revision.

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