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Poetry Workshop: Ideas and Results

Aracelis Girmay

This past weekend I had the rare pleasure and luxury of thinking of nothing else but words, writing and poetry.  I attended a poetry workshop organised by the indefatigable Geneva Writers’ Group and our guest instructor was the vibrant, beautiful poet Aracelis Girmay.  She invited us to play and experiment, to explore bewilderment and mysteries, to climb down the ladder of writing head-first.

It was the first full-length poetry workshop that I ever attended and, boy, did I need it!  Poetry is an old love that I have only recently come back to, after many years of neglect.  I am still struggling to shed the adolescent overcoat that lies over it (yes, it is that long ago since I wrote poetry).  I have been writing a lot of it this year, but is it all therapeutical outpourings of infuriating sentimentality? I needed to push myself. I needed to learn to play, watch words appear and disappear. So here is an interesting experiment we conducted.  Based on Bhanu Kapil‘s thought-provoking questions from her book ‘The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers’, we were asked to create our own questions about a subject that preoccupied us.  I picked ‘Identity and Belonging’, and here are my questions (it’s not really a poem, more like a prompt to spark thinking):

Where do you come from?

Who helped make you what you are?

If not here, where?

How will you know when you get there?

What are you trying to prove?

When will you know and tell?

If not now, when?

What else are you?

What has not been mentioned before?

Why do you need to make the fragments whole?

Who lingers when all is said and done?

But then – and this is where it gets interesting – we had to reshape our questions, leave gaps and rearrange syntax.  We were Isis finding all of the fragments of Osiris and trying to put them back together.  And I was startled to find a much more powerful way of thinking hiding under my initial, conventional questions.  Here is the outcome:

Where do you come from? Who helped make you?

What? You are? What else you are?

When you get there, will you know?

Will you know what you are trying?

When will you know and prove?

If not here, where from? If not now, how will you know?

Who lingers when all is said and done,

Who lingers when all done is said?

What do you think?  Which version do you prefer?  Is this an experiment that might be useful to your own writing?  Can we change our way of thinking by changing the structure of our sentences?  What does the lack of information, that frightening gap, tell us about ourselves?

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9 thoughts on “Poetry Workshop: Ideas and Results

  1. I’d prefer the second version, it seems to open up the responses that we might initially give …

    This looks like a splendid weekend, Marina. Love that you were looking at bewilderment and mystery. What an experience :)

    • Well, sounds like you had a good time as well with Arvon (and a whole week!) Yes, I learnt so much. I’m very diffident about my poetry, feel like a self-taught peasant, so it’s nice to learn to use some tools too.

  2. Marina Sofia – It sounds as though you had a wonderful time at that workshop! That’s great! And those questions are absolutely compelling. I like the second set as it seems more inviting if that makes any sense. What a great way to help us think.

  3. Pingback: Poetry Without A Message | Monkey Prodigy

  4. Oh, this is very interesting… Glad you enjoyed the workshop. These things can be so inspiring. I too prefer the second version… I think…

    • You’ve just been on a whole week of wonderment, so I can only imagine how inspiring that must have been! (Were you together with Polly?) There’s something really special about being in a roomful of like-minded people, all earnestly discussing the use of a simile or whether the title does justice to a poem.

  5. I’m adding another vote for the second version. I like the way it flows. It’s always good to be challenged to look at our work from a different perspective.

    • Thank you for your vote – I too prefer the second version. I think from now on I’ll always challenge myself to leave things out or stand things on their head. Just to experiment. And if it doesn’t work, I can always go back to the original, can’t I?

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