by Mally Becker
It was a bad week. There was a funeral, a sudden illness in the family and a last-minute work assignment with a tight deadline.
In other words, my muse – such as she is – was M.I.A. She hadn’t left a forwarding address, and the last thing on my mind was poetry.
But I’d signed up in advance for The Writers Circle’s special workshop, “Tickling the Muse” with nationally-recognized poets Peter Murphy and Renee Ashley, and there I sat, distracted and grim, at MONDO in Summit last Sunday. The workshop’s goal was to get us started on a poem that would explore with a light touch, the serious business of being alive. Right. Light touch, I thought. Not today.
Those sly poets.
They spoke of guppies, elephants, pajamas and bells, handed out fortune cookie fortunes (including some R-rated ones) and prompts, and shared poems that wove together humor and pathos. They told self-deprecating stories about their own work and encouraged elements in our on-the-spot writing that might be worth including in a second draft.
By the time the workshop ended, my mood had shifted and I walked away with the first draft of a poem about Albert Einstein and socks, relativity and the daily news. It turned out to be the perfect day to bring lightness to life.
Here’s just a smattering of what Renee and Peter shared:
That shitty first draft: Write prolifically. Invite everything in. Then revise more slowly, or, as Peter said: “Write like a guppy, and revise like an elephant.” And just because I know you’re curious, guppies can have up to a hundred babies every month, and elephants, one every 22 months.
Compression – The art of saying much with little Eventually, in revising our poems, we need to find the emotional core, Renee said. What does not adhere to that core needs to go. “If I stuff my pajamas into a bell, the bell won’t ring… Too many words deaden the sound.”
And where might one start that revision, or compression, process? Lose the adjectives and adverbs. “If your nouns and verbs are doing their job, you won’t need them,” Peter added.
Poetry tickles your brain as well as your muse: It turns out that reading and writing poetry are good for you. “Reading poetry stimulates memory centers of the brain,” Renee said, describing research results on the subject. And researchers also believe that the act of writing poetry stimulates portions of the brain associated with relaxation and emotional control. In addition, employing concrete imagery, rather than abstractions, has a physiological effect on readers. Here’s a quote that Renee shared from Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing:The Elements of Craft:
…[I]t is sense impressions that make writing vivid, and there is a physiological reason for this. Information taken in through the five senses is processed in the limbic system of the brain, which generates sensuous responses in the body: heart rate, blood/oxygen flow, muscle reaction, and so forth. Emotional response consists of these physiological reactions and so in order to have an effect on your reader’s emotions, you must literally get into the limbic system, which you can do only through the senses.
TWC’s annual Tea & Poetry event followed the workshop, including an open mic. What a wonderful way to bring the muse back after her undesired absence!
Mally Becker is TWC’s Outreach & Development Coordinator and recently completed her first novel.