This Year in (My) Poetry

I worked on poetry in 2017.  I just wanted to learn more, understand what I didn’t know.  Like what a poem is.  How to improve, mostly.  So I took courses and continued to submit.  I wrote it down and was surprised.  It was a good year, my strongest yet.  Still, I fear running dry.  And yet, reading poetry has become a daily occurrence and it feeds me and fills me with awe.  Sometimes my stomach drops as if I am in the presence of the holy.  Sometimes that occurs several times a day.

Classes taken in 2017:

  • I joined Writers Village University in January.  It’s a peer-driven online course with a curriculum that can lead to the equivalent of a certificate in Creative Writing or an MFA in Fiction or Non-fiction.  I joined as a non-degree student.  Because of the lack of poetry courses, I took a series of classes in Flash Creative Non-fiction.  I also took a course in The Impossible Journey by Loren Eiseley, which was helpful, and every poetry class I could find, including those on meter, blank verse, and Japanese forms.  Though I appreciated the opportunity to write and be critiqued by others, I simply lost interest in writing flash memoirs.  I enjoyed the poetry classes I took, but WVU did not have depth in its poetry offerings. Two of the classes I took had no facilitation at all–one had no other students.  
  • In March I took a Continuing Education class from UW-Fox called “Passionate About Poetry” taught by Troy Schoultz.  Again, the class was helpful as it forced me to write a weekly poem.  Troy conveyed a view of poetry that conformed to my values, but that I had not heard spoken before.  He thought of it in a spiritual sense–like a calling.  The poems I wrote for the class derived from personal history and I did not feel comfortable sharing them with the strangers I met there.  The other students were nice, but few wanted to share our poems in class.  One student was eager to read his work to us.  His progress in the class was remarkable.  Just shows that I missed an opportunity here.
  • At the end of March I attended “Writing on the Door Poetry Conference,” sponsored by Write On, Door County.  It was held in Fish Creek, a lovely place in Door County on Green Bay.  Naomi Shihab Nye kicked off the conference with a reading.  The next day I attended workshops by Dion  Kempthorne, Estella Lauter, then on Saturday I studied with Kimberly Blaeser and Albert DeGenova.  The conference attracted mature poets in their full powers and it was wonderful to write with them.  A poem I wrote in Kimberly Blaeser’s class “Humor and the Disobedient Poem,” was accepted for publication in Parody Magazine.    
  • In April I wrote 30 poems in 30 days for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month).  Thankfully, some friends in the Modern Poetry Facebook group joined with me and we shared our poems and supported each other.  Five of the poems I wrote were accepted for publication in online literary magazines.  
  • During the last week of June I went to Madison for their annual “Write by the Lake” workshop.  I was one of fifteen students who took Marilyn Taylor’s class “Carried Away:  How to Make a poem Take Flight.”  She gave us word lists and general themes each day in class.  We were expected to write a poem on the theme using a certain number of words from the list.  This was terribly challenging for me and the first couple nights I worked late into the next morning, stressed and full of despair.  The class was remarkably supportive and I began to relax as the week went on.  Two of the four poems I wrote, “Blueberry” and “When Big Tuba Goes to Heaven,” have been accepted by online literary magazines.  The class was long enough and small enough that I got to know some of the students in it, to my benefit.
  • I completed the certificate requirements for “Power of the Pen:  Identities and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays” MOOC offered by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.  This one was an intense stretch as I did six weeks of work in the final week and a half.  Two of the poems I wrote here were accepted for publication in online literary journals.  They were both instances in which I incorporated the use of a persona and spoke through someone else.   
  • In mid-September I discovered a nearby writers nonprofit called “The Mill: A Place for Writers.”  Karla Huston taught a Saturday morning workshop called, “Writing Poems from Objects.”  Again, I found it stressful to write a poem in class and share it, due to my anxieties about being a real poet and the sense that I still don’t get it.  Still the workshop was helpful and I wrote a poem and shared it with the class.  This always seems like a victory.   What I noticed was that each person in this class of four students wrote a unique poem.  There can’t be any judging of overall ability or potential when poems are so different from each other.  And each poem is an early draft.  Sometimes the drafts flourish, other times they are abandoned.  Karla was kind enough to share her own draft and that helped, as I recognized that even the current Wisconsin Poet Laureate revised her poems.  
  • I signed up for Tom Montag’s eight-week-class on Lyric Poetry, also sponsored by The Mill.  This turned out to be a monumental event in my growth as a poet.  I never knew what Lyric Poetry was before this.  Tom insisted that we read other poets throughout the class and reading poetry became a habit with me through the weeks of the course.  He generously let us borrow books from his vast personal library and I realized how helpful immersion in a poet’s works can be.  He worked us hard, asking us to make observations every day and report them to the class, as well as write poems that complied with the requirements of the lyric form.  This pushed me to grow.  I began to experiment with the techniques I saw in other poets.  I began to revise in an intuitive way–by feeling that the poem wasn’t finished yet, rather than looking for technical problems in it.  I became ruthless with some of my poems.  I also lost ego attachment to my work.   The class was small–just three of us.  He altered the class to meet each of our needs.  Three of the poems I wrote for this class have been accepted by online literary journals.   
  • In November I attended the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Fall Conference, but no workshop was included.  
According to my submissions tracker, I submitted poems for publication 68 times in 2017 (some  were submitted more than once).  I have 25 acceptances.  Four submissions are still pending.  This is a personal best.  
In 2018 I hope to continue to take classes and attend workshops. I am not yet a mature poet and still have more breakthroughs to push through with the help of a teacher/mentor. I will be joining an online poetry study/critique group in January with a group of expressive, talented poets.  
But really, the lesson I learned in 2017 is that I love poetry.  I love to read poems.  I enjoy the company of poets.  Poetry shapes and transforms my thoughts and activities into meaning.  I’m an apprentice.  The struggle is worthy.      

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