Last fall I attended an all-day poetry class at Hugo House, a writing center in Seattle. Fourteen writers gathered around a table for poet/teacher Kim Stafford’s “Scattered Eden” workshop, a day devoted to nature and writing, and how the two can intersect and inspire each other.
“An oasis,” one fellow poet called the gathering when asked why she was there. I found it a good metaphor, for the class and for Hugo House in general. It’s always a treat to connect with a muse of writers and devote a whole day to growing your work.
One poet, who is also a gardener, brought a generous lunch from her garden’s bounty: kale salad, heirloom tomatoes and chocolate zucchini cake. It was a perfect complement to the theme of the day.
We wrote from prompts offered by Stafford. We shared. We talked about writing practices and our ongoing work.
Growing vs. Fixing
Stafford offered “growing” as an alternative to “fixing” when editing poetry. Many of us spend too much time “fixing” poems in the editing process, like there’s something wrong with them and we’re in search of that one concrete solution that eludes us. Growing them feels more manageable and an approach that accepts us where we — and the poem — are, on any given day. An approach that can take us to unexpected places. Growing feels more like what a poem should be.
Send Your Work Out
At some point though, a poem must be considered “done enough,” right? One must recognize that it’s time to move on and grow through writing another poem. When a poem is “done enough,” send it out into the world. There it will grow even more through those you share the poem with, your readers.
We grow through reading the poetry of others. Thank goodness the poems I love and connect with, and that have been there when I need them, are not sitting in their author’s dusty piles and files where most of mine are.
Stafford lauded one of his former students who has a goal of 100 rejections from literary magazines. She sends the rejection letters to him from time to time, with a note celebrating where she is on the way to her goal.
How is 100 rejections a good goal? It means we’re sending our poems out, letting them live.
Growing a stack of rejections seems like a workable goal. The hardest part is gathering the courage to submit the work. But if it’s rejections a writer has in mind, the courage seems easier to muster. Of course, his student’s goal has had a few setbacks when her work has been accepted. And isn’t that a nice setback! I like this line of thinking and how it turns our expectations on their head.
Take a Poem for a Walk
The day after the class I took what I learned — and the pocket size book of poems Stafford gifted each of us — for a walk. I like to take poems for walks, but it’s been too long since I’ve done so.
I walked with a reawakened awareness to the outdoors, realizing I’ve had my head down too much lately, focused on life’s mundane to-do lists and the “fixed” path society says I should take. This morning, it was up with the crows and geese flying overhead.
I opened Stafford’s book to this poem. I don’t think he’d mind my sharing it.