On a College Campus Again…

Starting Monday I will be offering up my poems for workshop in an MFA Summer Residency.   This is the second of three summers, the cornerstone of a program that pushes us all to improve as writers.

I feel that my writing is becoming more personally resonant and more open. There is more freedom as I sit down to write. Last semester, my class engaged in discussion about self-censorship and why it is essential that we not censor our words in our writing. There are no longer “off-limit” topics. If there was a topic that I avoided, I am forcing myself to go there and write about difficult subjects, characters, and events.

Writing is an art and it is therapy. You might call it “free therapy,” but anyone who writes knows that in reality there is a cost to laying yourself bare on the page.   Writing digs deep into our human emotions. Not to mention the fact that poems are meant to be read aloud, and reading aloud in workshop or on stage such raw poems is tough.

Step by step. I will start with the writing and the workshopping process. Later, I’ll step my toes into the process of sharing with an audience: submitting to publications and reading aloud in public.

Art is emotion and it can be hard to wrap your brain around sharing it with the world.

But, this is why we write, and especially why we are in an MFA program.

We are taking steps to share our experience.

I’m Drawn to Artists

My parents shared with me their own appreciation of the arts.

Their talent certainly isn’t singing, but they aren’t afraid to sing their favorite tunes off-key.  Might I add, my mom is a world-class whistler.  She’s a songbird.

They always enjoy hearing quality live music.  Even now they especially enjoy local music and the singer-songwriters who play in smaller venues.  The best part of the concert is the backstory.  They reveal slices of their story in between the notes.

They encouraged my interest in reading.  The newspaper was more than news.  We read the bylines and continued to read our favorite weekly columnists who slipped in their own story as if we were reading chapters of their personal memoirs.  We discussed John Switzer’s philosophical take on the weather and the migration of birds, and Joe Blundo’s take on the intersection of morals and politics.

They took me to countless art galleries as we marveled at the genius of sculptors and painters.  They never had to drag me; I always enjoyed hypnotically gazing in wonder at works of visual art.  I’m not a visual artist, so I especially valued seeing this style of art.

Last summer, looking at my friend Greer’s oil paintings mounted on a wall at the Beachwood Community Center really hit home.  She has been practicing her art since as long as I’ve known her.  All artists practice their craft.  Art is about expression not perfection.

She’s been improving her own art technique and her artist’s eye allows her to share her story on canvas.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I won’t do it justice by trying to explain.  The paintings are her point of view.  I did feel a sense of being outdoors after looking at her images, which were all grounded in nature.  Being outdoors brings a sense of calm but also it also brings me back to equilibrium.  I always pray for strength, health, and energy; nature freely gives me all of these.

The writing process is my main artistic venue.  My secondary venue is through music.  I have always been a singer in a choir, and for the past decade I have been dabbling in guitar.  I am certainly amateur, but what I enjoy most is setting my own lyrics to music.  A life beyond poetry on the page.  It’s more universal and more meant for sharing.

The process is visual.  Removing my guitar from its case.  Adjusting the strings back in tune.  Cutting my fingernails.  Making time out of my day to play notes, chords, and build calluses.  Allowing the time for songwriting to ooze out of my pores.  Waking up from a dream with a new phrase or refrain written.

Giving time to art is the key.  As much as you practice and edit, you must let inspiration have the time to make the masterpieces you are meant to create.  You must allow yourself the time to create your art and finally to share your art.

The writing process is more internal, and more about mastering your awareness.  A poem percolates from an observation.  Notice both beauty and injustice.  Practice mindfulness daily.


(Art is about perspective. Kouros holding a ram, Akropolis, 600 B.C. in Thasos Town, Greece.)