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.


9 Responses to “What I learned in Wellfleet”

  1. rswb on July 13, 2010 9:57 am

    That sounds like it was great. And I imagine that, as a poet, it must be fab to get really positive feedback like that, not only because writing is such a solitary pursuit, but also because I think most people don’t really know how to encourage a poet (as in, people you meet casually and say “I’m a poet” to, probably don’t really know how to respond a lot of the time. it’s not like saying “I’m an accountant”, I imagine).

  2. Eve on July 14, 2010 12:33 pm

    Good summary of the workshop. And I agree. Having Marge like my work and see it as worth pursuing has been so validating. But also – I shared my poetry with the 11 of you and found that validating. To be respected as a writer by 12 women whose work I respect so much…wow.

    I am looking forward to our reunions on the Cape.

  3. Jennifer on July 16, 2010 7:34 am

    Robyn it was wonderful

    Eve, there are more posts coming about the personal and social part of the week, but they are proving harder to write!

  4. Claire on July 18, 2010 6:26 pm

    Wow, that sounds great. I think it would be amazing to do a writing workshop and just…write. And write. And enjoy the presence and input of other writers.
    It’s also great to get that encouragement from someone you respect as a writer.
    Are you involved in a writers’ group in your area? That is sometimes all that keeps me drawing the words out…

  5. There were also lobster rolls at Magpie Days on July 18, 2010 8:07 pm

    […] wasn’t just poetry. There were also lobster rolls. I ate lobster rolls from the day I landed in Boston to the day I […]

  6. Jennifer on July 20, 2010 9:20 am

    Clare, I’ve got an on-line writing group but nothing where I get together with other writers “in real life” as they say. At this workshop I realized how much I miss that and I am going to look around for something.

  7. christina on July 28, 2010 1:38 pm

    jealous of your time in Wellfleet and with marge. how incredible, astounding, and wonderful! (happy for you too!)

  8. Jennifer on August 2, 2010 9:42 am

    Christina – I remember feeling the same when you went to Taos. In fact, that was when I realized “Hey! I can go to a workshop even if I’ve got small children! Christina does it!” So thanks for the life inspiration.

  9. Kristen Spina on August 5, 2010 7:29 pm

    Jennifer, what wonderful feedback, I’m so happy for you! Great experience!

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