The Poetry Critique Meet-Up began rather inauspiciously. It was a brainstorm of mine, one day when I was out hiking with my wife: “Wouldn’t it be cool to lead a low-commitment, low-cost poetry mini-seminar?”
Poetry seminars often require a long commitment, travel, a steep price, or all of the above. I thought it would be nice to make it easier for people to attend. It already takes courage just to write poetry and to share it with strangers. I wanted to eliminate as many other barriers as I could.
I later brought up my idea at a Straw Dog Writers Guild (SDWG) program committee meeting, and it got a lukewarm reception, since it was unlike our usual programming. But not long after, I was asked if I still was interested in that poetry seminar idea, because SDWG had been asked to collaborate on writing programs with the Northampton Center for the Arts (NCA).
I immediately said ‘no,’ feeling hesitant about embarking on a new project, when my schedule seemed pretty loaded already. But the next day my old dead carpentry buddy Henry intervened (yet again), as I was reminded how he always took on new jobs, even if he had no idea how he was going to pull it off. So I reconsidered and told everyone I was game.
There is a kind of fateful connection involved in my leading this program. I learned early on that the program would be subsidized by an NCA writing fund, thus allowing participants to pay just a five dollar fee each time. This fund was established in honor of a young Northampton writer who died recently. As it so happens, in my former career as a carpenter/contractor, I happened to work on the house of this writer years ago, fixing up his bathroom and the deck off his bedroom. It feels like a privilege to me, being able to participate in this young man’s legacy, by providing a forum for other area writers.
We are there in service of poetry. Our efforts are to make the poems the best they can be.
The Meet-Up has been running one Sunday per month since June of 2018. Usually, about half a dozen of us meet for two hours, each person getting a chance to read one original poem aloud and get feedback from everyone in the group. I do not present a poem, but as facilitator, I see my role as helping create an atmosphere where a kind of instant community can be formed. As I tell the participants before the feedback sessions, “It’s not about you, it’s about the poem.” We are there in service of poetry. Our efforts are to make the poems the best they can be.
It is difficult, nearly impossible, to write a really great poem. But we dedicated poets continue to try to observe our inner and outer worlds, scour them for beauty and misery, and transfer our discoveries to a page, with varied success. And it is so difficult, nearly impossible, to be objective about one’s own writing. But as a community of writers, in a Meet-Up like this, we remind one another where we are succeeding, and where we can polish the places that aren’t yet reflecting truly.
There is something gratifying, comforting even, to be in a group of poets for a couple of hours. In the service to art and to each another, I find the worries of the world outside the door seem a bit more distant. Afterward, when we leave the room, I hope the others in the group feel similar to me – that I am no less vulnerable than before, but I can bear my vulnerability with less loneliness.
If you are interested in learning more about the Poetry Critique Group please visit www.nohoarts.org/writers-workshops/