Saturday morning I had breakfast with former U.S. Poet-Laureate Billy Collins who was the featured speaker. Okay, I didn't actually sit with him . . . but we were in the same room. He read several of his poems, sharing ideas for his inspiration. I was particulary struck by this comment: "Poetry is a bird. Prose is a potato. Where prose ends, poetry begins." Apparently, his remark reflects a friendly feud with a fiction writer (name unknown to me), but it made me think of "found poems" by taking a piece of prose and pulling words and phrases from it to create a poem. I often assigned this to my students as we were reading a novel or short story and was always amazed at the different poems emerging from the same piece of prose.
Too often teachers beat both prose and poetry to death, encouraging students to detest it, so I appreciated Collins' suggestion to begin each day reading a poem -- just reading it. No formal analysis, no required discussion -- just read and enjoy! Think about it -- when I eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut, do I analyze its ingredients? I don't think so! I just enjoy it. (Okay, sometimes I might ponder the fat grams -- but that is only sometimes!) The Library of Congress, inspired by Collins' idea, has created a website: Poetry 180: A poem a day for american high schools where teachers can access poems of various writers.
Amy Lannin, Associate Director of the Missouri Writing Project through the University of Missouri, presented a workshop titled, "It's All Routine: Writing Creative Nonfiction." Perfect timing as that was the week's genre for my PCLOWC. Her presentation focused on how every day routines could provide inspiration for creative nonfiction. Using her own work as an example, she shared part of an essay she had written about packing a suitcase for a family trip. As she explored the topic, the piece eventually evolved into a memoir of packing for her grandmother as she left her home of forty years.
I liked her suggestion to freewrite a list of routines. Choose one and list all the steps of the routine. Think about the routines within the routines. Now, choose an object from this routine. Describe the object. Personify it. All of this prewriting moves the writer deeper into the subject matter. Once a text is drafted, Amy demonstrated how working with sentence structure (Her focus was participle phrases.) could take the writer more deeply into piece.
Books Amy recommended are noted in the sidebar. I'm familiar with Barry Lane's After the End, which I used when I was teaching. Though geared to working with students' texts, it has valuable ideas for any writer. Zoom by Istvan Banyai is a picture book that depicts zooming into the details or additional stories of a topic, and I definitely want to add it to my library. The pictures were fascinating!
Amy is a lovely woman -- warm and professional -- just being around her is a joy, and her presentation was excellent! In fact, I left with an idea taken from the routine list she had us make.
On the way out of town, my friends and I stopped at our favorite tea room at the Yankee Peddler. It has become a tradition to lunch there before leaving for home. I topped off my sandwich with a warm slice of chocolate cake. (Talk about fat grams!) What a sweet way to end my writing retreat, which I hope will also become a tradition!