Sunday, October 3, 2010

Teaching Poetry

Starting one fine Thursday in January, I will be teaching a course on letters, that is letter writing and reading. The course is called Finding Your Voice Through Letters and getting ready for it reminded me of a letter (ok, an email)I wrote to someone who has taught me a lot about poetry.

I think this shows how much fun I have teaching about writing:

“I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I hope you will make it to Pyramid this summer. It will be my 15th year in a row.

You might have loved to be a fly on the wall when I recently taught a course entitled "Confronting Your Poetry Phobia". It was four sessions, once a week. I learned a lot and fortunately got rave reviews. For a text I used Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook, thinking what the hell, it's Mary Oliver. How far astray can she lead me? One day right after the class started, I was on the Capital Arts Center site, wandered over there from the Sister Project. I saw that you were teaching a beginning poetry class, so I ordered the books you were using in case I needed them. For my own reference guide I was using Lewis Turco's book which is frankly a little over my head sometimes.

I think you might have doubled over and wet your pants to hear me teach the red wheelbarrow poem. (It's a painting, people, it's a painting.) Surprisingly enough the conversation went from- this is a poem? to - just how much does depend on a red wheelbarrow. Then there was the time I taught meter. Please.

When we discussed sonnets, one woman wanted to know if Shakespeare had known all these rules, as she said, even way back then. I assured her he had, but the kicker is, she is British. She went through the British school system and is asking me about Shakespeare.

I also taught haiku, tanka, pantoum, sestina, and the villanelle - a selection I think of as the Julie forms because you taught them all at Pyramid. I encouraged them to write a shortened form of the villanelle, using three triplets and one quatrain. I call this the villanellie.
Here is a sestina I wrote based on my six word memoir: One list after another, to do. I read it last Thursday when I was interviewed on WERU community radio (archived at

One List After Another, To Do

Yes, there is that one
I’ll put it on the list.
Yes, I’ll do it after
All, but there is another
That begs for me to
Make that the next I do.

What else can I do?
I understand why that one
Is what I have to look to.
This is not my only list.
I have this and another;
I’ll do them all after.

Not now but on a day after
I have less to do
Then I’ll be onto another
Set of things, not this one
But a long line, a real list
Of places to go to.

I have more goals to work to
Until at some time after
This I go onto the next list
Of places to go and things to do
I’ll always have at least one
Thing jumping before another.

Soon enough I’ll be onto another
Among all the tasks to
Face me before this one.
Even that should come after
What I plan to do
Once I’ve done this list.

I’ll put it on my list
But first, I have another
Set of things to do
Before I get to
The plans I made after
Deciding to finish this one.

I have the list all settled to
Move on to another shortly after
I plan to do just this one.

I hope all is well with you. See you in July?”

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