Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tonight at the Writers' Workshop

Tonight only four of us met at the monthly Writers' Workshop at the town library, but we still had a productive meeting. Our fearless leader, Dave, an English teacher at the local high school, had given us one of his short stories last time to read and comment upon -- a fact I had completely forgotten about until 6 PM tonight, with Judith picking me up at 6:15. I managed to not only read his story but also had time to pencil in a few comments which I added to as Dave read his story aloud to the group. We gave him some feedback on the narrator as well as some help with diction level, opening paragraphs, and flashbacks. It was an excellent story that needed just a tweak here and there about which we were able to advise him. Dave is quite talented; I'm really looking forward to reading more of his novel he's working on as well.

Jess, also an English teacher now retired, shared part of a short story with us tonight as well (and left us hanging, waiting for the next installation), and we'll be workshopping a story of his next week that he distributed before we left. Judith shared an excerpt from her novel -- a beautiful and touching scene of rain after a devastating drought. It grabbed all of us, and I am eagerly anticipating reading more of her work as I've never heard her fiction before, just her poetry which I teach to my writing students. And finally I shared a short poem that I worked on only this afternoon.

After talking with Kitty, my extremely-talented poet friend who's working on her MFA, I've been wanting to try utilizing form in my poetry rather than writing free verse exclusively. A few weeks ago, the boys had an assignment in their language arts curricula that included the study of some Japanese poetic forms that went along with their study of samurai warriors. The form they learned was called a tanka, a five-lined poem with the syllabic scheme of 5-7-5-7-7 (that many syllables for each line of the poem) that usually deals with nature. As I've been rather taken with daffodil season lately, I thought, in the tradition of Wordsworth, that I would write a tanka on daffodils.

I started out with a rough five lines in the correct syllabic structure, but I was only pleased with the first two lines. Then I thought about expanding the idea into a free verse poem just as an idea-generation exercise, rather like freewriting. After doing so, I was able to take an idea or two from the longer poem and work them back into the tanka, tightening the rhetoric and the imagery. I'm not sure I'm done with it, so I'll let it sit for a week or so and then come back to it. Here's what I came up with:

In the breeze they dance
Sun-hued, bobbing heads brightly
To unheard music.
So briefly we rejoice in
The pure grace of daffodils.

For next month's Writers' Workshop we're going to bring in short works of poetry or prose about our town. We'll "workshop" them together to improve them, and then we'll submit them to our town's monthly newspaper, The Valley Views (in which I published my first feature story in this month's issue on the They Poured Fire upon Us from the Sky authors' talk and booksigning). I may work more on the poem above as daffodils are our town's unofficial flower, or I may polish up my blog entry on the McCain Valley rock hounding trip. Or I may work on something else. We'll have to see what the Muses decide to whisper in my ear... (or what I can improve from my blog entries here).

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