A Memorable but Disappointing Poetry Workshop #TuesdayTidbit #Essay

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Rose and I have been traveling to poetry workshops and other writing conferences for years, sharing gas and motel costs. I first met her in 2000 through Range Writers, a local group I joined when I first started out as an author. Rose is old enough to be my mother, in her eighties now with me turning sixty this year. But we’ve been good friends ever since the day I attended that first Range Writers meeting. Not only am I grateful for her companionship but also for her ability to drive, something I can’t do, thanks to my limited vision.

Last year, because of COVID, my Wyoming state poetry society, WyoPoets, did not hold its annual workshop. These workshops usually take place during a weekend in April, National Poetry Month, and last two days with a reading on Friday night and the workshop itself running all day Saturday.

This year’s workshop took place in Gillette, about 100 miles away from Sheridan, where I live. It featured a couple of panel discussions on Friday afternoon and live music on Friday night in addition to the reading. I hoped there would be a virtual option, since I wasn’t sure how Rose would feel about traveling, even though COVID restrictions had been lifted.

But there was no virtual option. So, when I was asked if I would serve on a panel of published poets that would take place on Friday afternoon, I called Rose, expecting her to say she didn’t think it would be a good idea to travel just yet. But to my surprise, she said she wanted to go. Although I could have found a ride with someone else in my Range Writers or Third Thursday Poets groups, I was relieved that Rose and I would be traveling together again.

Renee, another poet, offered to drive us both. Janet, a third poet, agreed to follow us in her car, since she was planning to stay at a different hotel from the one where we were staying and where the workshop was being held. So, at about eleven o-clock on a Friday morning in April, our little convoy hit the highway.

It was raining when we left Sheridan. By the time we arrived in Gillette about an hour and a half later, the rain had stopped. But dark clouds still hung in the sky, and the wind blew from time to time. It remained cloudy and windy throughout the weekend, but we were thankful there wasn’t any snow, which there sometimes was at this time of year.

After a delicious lunch at a pizza place Janet recommended, we drove to the hotel where the workshop would take place. When Rose and I checked into our room, we realized it was about time for the first of two panel discussions to start. I was thankful the discussion in which I would participate wouldn’t start until later. In the first presentation, several poets talked about how they found their poetic voices, which was interesting, especially since a couple of them also wrote music.

The panel in which I was involved consisted of poets with published collections. We each shared a few poems, then talked about our publishing experiences before taking questions from the audience. This went well. A lot of people asked about the publishing industry, and I think we gave them some helpful answers.

Afterward, I was approached by an elderly woman, who would be our workshop presenter the next day. A month earlier, I’d mailed her a poem to be critiqued. We’d been told that she would use a few poems she received in her workshop. I’d since forgotten which poem I’d sent her, and I figured she would choose other people’s work instead.

So, I was completely thrown off guard when she told me how much she enjoyed the poem I sent and asked me to read it to everyone the next day. Being visually impaired, I stored any material I planned to read aloud on a Braille device I carried with me. Since I’d forgotten which poem I’d sent and didn’t think she’d want to use the poem, naturally, I didn’t have it in a format I could read. When I explained this and asked if she would read the poem aloud instead, she agreed.

That evening, after we all enjoyed some live music and appetizers and desserts, the reading began. Usually, the first to read are our workshop presenter, then our annual contest winners, then those featured in the organization’s chapbook that comes out every other year. After that, anyone else who wants to read is welcome to do so. Since we didn’t have a workshop last year, there were more contest winners than usual. Many people who contributed to last year’s chapbook also shared their work. Rose and I had signed up to read during the open mic portion, but by nine o’clock, when we still hadn’t had our turns, we were tired and decided to return to our room. I slept remarkably well that night, considering the fact that I was in a strange bed in a different environment.

The next morning, after we all enjoyed a free breakfast the hotel provided and attended the WyoPoets business meeting, the workshop began. I was delighted when the presenter read my poem aloud. She did an excellent job, and it was nice to hear someone else read my work. She also provided some useful feedback.

But that day’s workshop, as a whole, was a disappointment. In my opinion, a good workshop should provide instruction in technique and plenty of opportunities to write. In this one, though, the presenter spent most of the day reading poems written by herself and others, myself included, and leading the group in a discussion of these poems. This can be a good way to learn about craft but can get old after a while.

That having been said, this workshop wasn’t a total bust. I was thrilled to have my work shared, even though I wasn’t the one reading it aloud. I also had an opportunity to reconnect with people I’d met over the years during past conferences and lost touch with since the pandemic. I also made new friends and ate great food I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed home.

The workshop ended around four o’clock that Saturday afternoon, and our little convoy of poets hit the road soon afterward. It didn’t seem to take nearly as long to get home as it did to get there. I was glad to unpack, toss a load of clothes in the washer, then collapse into my recliner with a Dr. Pepper to deal with email that had piled up since I’d left town the day before. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s to keep a record of poems I send for critique, just like I do for work I send for publication, and never assume my piece isn’t good enough to be used in a workshop.


The above appears in the current issue of The Writer’s Grapevine, which can be read here. The poem that was critiqued has been published on Recovering the Self.


And now, I’m pleased to announce that throughout the month of July, My Ideal Partner and The Red Dress are available from Smashwords ABSOLUTELY FREE as part of its annual summer/winter sale. You can visit my Smashwords author page to download these books. Happy reading!

By the way, for those of you who use the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, The Red Dress is available for download from their site here. No matter how you read it, please be sure to review it wherever you can. That goes for all my books. Thank you for stopping by. Stay safe, happy, and healthy.


New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

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When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

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