What I learned in Wellfleet

July 13th, 2010

Wellfleet. I’m still trying to write about Wellfleet. About Wellfleet the town. About working with Marge Piercy. About the eleven other wonderful poets, amazing women all, who travelled the week with me. About what I learned; what I learned about poetry and what I learned about my life. 

It’s easier to write about the poetry, about the workshop experience. It was a juried workshop: we had to apply with an initial package of five poems (perhaps you remember my poem choosing angst?); the twelve of us who were ultimately selected then had to provide an additional ten poems prior to the workshop. We met for three hours each morning with each day devoted to a particular aspect of the craft: imagery, oral effects, titles, line length/line breaks, etc. In the afternoons we had assignments based on that morning’s work and we then workshopped these poems the following day. Each one of us had an individual conference with Marge, in the gazebo in her garden, during which she went over our fifteen poems in great detail and provided more general feedback. We capped off the week with a public reading in Wellfleet; Marge closed the reading with some new poems. There was a lot of work, but not too much, and Marge deliberately balanced the workload with us having an opportunity to explore and enjoy Wellfleet. (And may I say: I will be back with family in tow. Yes, you impressed me that much, Wellfleet.) It was a fantastic experience.

My instinct that I am good at this, that if I stick at this I will have some modest success, was confirmed by Marge, who gave me some very positive feedback. (She also suggested that I might want to consider abandoning altogether any further attempts at the villanelle; she’s nothing if not honest.) I have a good eye for the right detail and I’m generally good at titles but I could play with sound a lot more than I do. My use of the line break is generally on target, but when I fail, I fail spectacularly. I have a good instinct for revision. My best work speaks to my emotional truth; my weakest poems are those that I write because I think I should write about a certain thing or in a certain way. Much to my surprise, I have a pretty good reading presence. All in all, Marge’s message to me was: stick with this and you will be widely published. It was so rewarding to have my instincts confirmed. I do so much of my work and my attempts at growth and learning alone here in expat isolation; it is good to have those reminders that this is not a fool’s errand. 

Write. Just keep writing.