Monday, April 19, 2010

Kids & Poetry Class

As part of Poetry Month, I agreed to teach two sessions at my beloved local library of what I call Poetry 101. Notes piled up on my desk, books consulted, on-line sites perused, an agenda forwarded for copying, 15 copies made, ahh, five teens signed up for the first session, good to go. NOT! The teens, it turned out, were not teens; they were pre-teens disguised as sunny-faced little girls. Once their mothers left them, they tore off their disguises and became whirling pinwheels. Seated in office chairs that spin, they spun. They giggled, they turned their faces to the wall. One played a variation on the ignore-the-visiting-poet theme and stretched her arm on the table, then lay her head on her arm. She reminded me of my puppy when he's bored and waiting for me to put on my walking shoes. All the materials I had packed along were useless. One of the moms scanned my carefully selected books meant to show the variety of places one could find good poems to read. "Oh, she hasn't any Shel Silverstein here!" Well, duh, I expected older folks who might already be ready for other material.

Fortunately, I got a look at the attendance list a few minutes before the first participant arrived. I snatched back and hid the fifteen copies of our agenda. No way was I going to lead off with the first few lines of "Howl" and launch into a discussion of how we got to where we are in American poetry. No way was any information on publication useful. I did manage to squeeze some juice out of Shakespeare's wonderful description of poetry from "Midsummer Night's Dream." And let's be fair:it wasn't the kids' fault that they were kids, so I mustered as much patience as I could, gave them what I thought they could use, tolerated most of their fidgeting, at least until the second time one of them shot her hair scrunchy across the room. Then I did promise, with a strained smile, that if that happened again, I would confiscate the scrunchy.

As we wrapped up, I asked what each would take away from the afternoon. One girl was most intrigued to learn the origin of the term chapbook, said now she wouldn't embarrass herself in conversation by making up some far fetched origin. Oh, well. Then I asked what they would want to do differently if we ever met again as a group. The twirliest girl, the one with the scrunchy, said she'd only come back if I were not so "picky." I looked her right in the eyes and asked, without a smile, "Would you have learned anything if I hadn't been picky?" Well, no, she admitted. Then I smiled. Then I packed up my books. Then I went to dinner with friends and suggested that if I ever in the future mentioned teaching poetry to teens, they were to please, please, lock me in my room till the impulse died.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

AWP awesome!

I cannot give you the full story of three days spent in the company of 8,000 writers in Denver. But the people I heard read: Cornelius Eady, Matthew Zapruder, Jean Valentine, B. H. Fairchild, Joy Harjo, Diane Wakoski, eight other writers from Plain View Press (my publisher for The Great Hunger), Richard Jackson, Kathryn Winograd, Rita Dove, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, Gregory Orr, Pattiann Rogers, Robert Hass, Terry Tempest Williams (twice), Rick Bass (twice), William Kittredge, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Martin Espada, Toi Derricotte, Ray Gonzalez, Debra Busman and others.

As I had anticipated, I was tired and wired by the end of Sunday evening. As one of my companions said, we didn't know whether to give up in the face of all that excellence or dash home and hit the writing desk. I still have to finish sorting all the fliers and postcards and sample copies, to read and savor the latest book (signed!) by Wakoski, and find a prominent place for a new reference book. This morning's journal includes a list of things to do for promoting my own work, and a longer list of pleasures and responsibilities that attached or reattached themselves to the role of writer--building community, respecting the work of other writers, staying aware of the world outside the book. Espada's voice will stay in my head, and Bass's telling me that we have to be active, we have to connect, to use our skill with words to engage whoever will listen, and to do our work so well that others will want to hear.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Short Sabbatical

Tomorrow the madness begins--Associated Writing Programs convenes in Denver. Given the size of this monster meeting, I expect to be first thrilled to hear such folks as Gary Snyder, Ann Waldman, Diane Wakoski, Terry Tempest Williams, etc. I expect to read at one of the off-site readings, maybe sign a few books, and drink a gallon of coffee over the next four days. It all begins when I pick up my publisher at the airport. I expect by Saturday night to be spent, wiped out, my house cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of whatever washes up on the shore of the week. I'll be back here, what's left of me, next week. Till then, keep on keeping on.