Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Writing Residency

I attended the Squires Summer Writing Residency in Swannanoa, NC. this weekend. Cathy Smith Bowers was the instructor for the poetry class. I had not heard of her or read her poetry but I’m certainly a fan now. She teaches creative writing at Queens College and teaches workshops.

As you can see the dorms were bare necessities and the whole floor shared two bathrooms;thankfully there were several showers and toilets in each bathroom. My bed is the one on the right. This was an interesting college that is ecologically minded for sure. The meals were tofu and orzo style, vegetarian and one meat choice for those of us who dare. The students have to work at the college for part of their tuition. I thought that was a wonderful idea.

I learned so much simply from seeing how she critiqued my work and those of my fellow workshop attendees. We all critiqued each other’s work after Cathy first critiqued it herself going by certain criteria that she gave us.
The following are things to look for when writing, critiquing, or judging poetry.

1. Feeling – she reads it aloud the first time just to see how the poem makes her feel. If it doesn’t have feeling, she’s not interested in going further. She hears it with her heart before she reads it with her mind.
2. Story – What’s the story?
3. Language – words chosen.
4. Line – How the poet puts the work on the page; words, lines, stanzas.
The idea is to create tension or enhance tension that’s already there in each of these categories as you write.

You start out with an abiding image (not idea) and write everything you can down; directional stream of consciousness that has to do with that image. Then you take that hunk of stone (like Michelangelo) and make a poem of it. Lots of editing and drafts involved to make it into a poem. It doesn’t just happen.

That was her basic message and then in our critiques we used that technique.

I am really glad I went to this residency and I have rarely felt that way. I always love meeting and being with other writers and that’s why I want to go but this workshop really added a lot more.

I had a reading on Saturday night at Sutton Hall and it went well I think. At least people who approached me that night and the next day said my work really touched them. I was on cloud nine and so glad I did the reading. I was so nervous before because I had never given a reading at a college before but it turned out that just the residency students were there, creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry so I was in good company.

Cathy Smith Bowers said my work touches her. What a compliment from a poet that I really like now. I love her poetry. I would go again if I had the opportunity to. She and another professor from the college she teaches at gives workshops periodically in Black Mountain. She said they wanted to reach people who did not go for their masters in literature or creative writing to get some of the information. Wow, I’m ready.

The first night we heard an author, Keith Flynn, who gave an interesting talk on what he thought was necessary to be published. He said every time there is an opportunity, read your work. He said we writers were an egotistical lot; we felt like we had something to say that was worth hearing. He said we should act like it when we go for a reading. He said there are very few authors who make money from their craft. He said if you expect more than free copies of your book for your work, you are probably going to be disappointed. You might make a few bucks if you sell to a huge journal magazine. Do what you have to do to get published in any publication, that's building your resume so the next one will be easier to sell.

Rich Rennicks is a marketing associate and he told us that even if the author is a very good writer, if he or she is not personable, they won't bother. You have to get out there and sell yourself, sell your work.


Anonymous said...

Eagerly read your blog and was wondering where you were..what a wonderful long learning for sure and sharing your gifts..CA

Mary said...

I loved reading more detail about your weekend and glad that you learned some valuable things about critiquing! The ideas sound extremely practical and useful.

William said...

Pretty interesting Honey. I loved the accomadations. Certainly first class. I loved the idea that the kids had to work a little for their tuition. what that guy said about publishing sure sounds logical to me. Like anything, you have to sell yourself as well even if your writings are great.

Peggy said...

Again Judy, I am rereading your notes from the workshop and getting lots out of it. Sounds like a wonderful workshop. I wish she would do one farther West.