The Poetry Writing class ended in April. That month always celebrates poetry reading and writing. We talked about posting a display of our work at the local library, but that didn’t happen. It did indicate that we were looking forward together.
On the last class day, we all agreed to continue meeting in our homes. Monthly seemed to be a small commitment compared to our weekly class. We wanted to continue writing and workshopping our poems. I knew it would motivate me to keep writing. I needed that.
We decided to alternate meeting in each other’s home. Since it was an evening meeting, we shared a meal and then shared our poems, discussing possible ideas for revision. We kept moving around and writing.
We eventually named our group The Great Rift Writers, after the Great Volcanic Rift in our local region of Southeastern Idaho. We continued meeting for about five years. We kept losing members as they moved from the region, but we did promote poetry in our area. I worked for Barnes and Noble Booksellers, and arranged an Open Mic Night once a month at the store. Members of the community were invited to read their works.
We added a few new writers to the group, but not enough to keep it going. One of my best friends today from that group is still writing and publishing his poems. I kept writing after leaving the group. I finally published my collection of poems this year after twenty-five years, Writing in Sand. It’s available now on Amazon. The hefty poetry tome ended up being 412 pages.
It took a couple years to find most of my poems–many from near-dead computer hard drives in my basement. I have to give credit to the Great Rift Writers for keeping me going early on a creative path that I’m still traveling. It’s hard to do anything alone initially.
How did you start writing consistently? What influenced your writing life? What motivated you to write? I’d love to hear from you. I’d like to hear from writers of other genres. Let’s promote writing together. This small space could influence a community of future writers.
While teaching English to 9th Graders in the mid-1990’s, I read in my local newspaper a list of classes being offered by Community Education during the Spring Semester. A Poetry Writing class was being offered by Leslie Ovard, an Idaho State University instructor. I had been interested in writing for years, but now I had a method of writing that I wanted to explore.
The class was organized as a workshop. We would come each week with a poem, created from a writing prompt from the previous week. I started writing about what I knew– the mining industry in North Idaho. I am from Kellogg, Idaho, and my father’s family had immigrated there from Camborne, Cornwall. His grandfather had come to the area since the 1880’s, probably in the gold mining camps of Pritchard and Murray north of Kellogg.
On the first night of the class, I found that I was the only male who signed up for the class. I was not too surprised. The only reason why I mention it is that I seemed to be treated differently when we shared and commented on our weekly writings. My stuff seemed to be chewed up and spit out quicker than others.
I didn’t take it personally. It was more of a humorous highlight–more of a challenge. A few weeks in, one of the ladies brought it to the class’s attention that my writings seemed to be getting more negative comments. Actually, I used the comments as more of a personal insight. I spent more time editing and polishing my writings, knowing that they would be bulldogged. I used the comments to improve. However, after that comment, I did feel that I was more a part of the class.
I kept returning to mining themes for writing my poems. I always admired my Dad who spent his whole working life as a hardrock miner. He was proud to be a Mainline Motorman. I wanted to memorialize his life’s work in poetry. My writing grew from a chore of completing a weekly assignment to a love of finding my writing voice. Having a real goal improved my results.
My mining poems were eventually gathered together and self published as my first Chapbook in 2004. The title of that first work was Miner Moments. I only hand-sold less than ten copies. I gave away more copies to family and friends than I sold. My pay was in thank-you’s. I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s comment after publishing Walden: “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. Is it not well that the author should behold the fruits of his labor?”
When l published my 25-year collection of poetry in January of 2022, Writing in Sand, I included all my poems from Miner Moments. I’m still proud of that first Chapbook since it was dedicated to my Dad.
My next post will continue my writing journey in poetry. What happened after the writing class? How did it change my writing life?
What are you most proud of in your life? If you are a writer or a poet or another creative, what got you started? How did you go about finding your voice in writing or creating? I love sharing stories. None are too small to hear.
This morning was a poet’s dream for me. Two poem subjects bubbled to the surface. Within a span of an hour and a half, I had completed two new poems. One came from a childhood memory and the other came from seeing a puzzle carved into a tombstone in Ontario Canada.
Steven King once observed that poems are written with the unconscious mind. I read that quote after writing the poems. I felt as though lightning had struck the ground in front of me. Those two poem subjects kept returning to my mind. I kept saying, How, and they found a way.
I have just been notified that I will be on Eat the Storms Poetry Podcast this Saturday. The Podcast originates from Ireland at 5 PM. The Podcast should broadcast locally at 10 AM MDT OR 9 AM PDT. From the list of poets, I may be first on the program.
I am deeply honored to read my work on the podcast. I will be reading from my recently published 25 year collection of my poetry. The book Writing in Sand is available on Amazon.
If my house were on fire and I could only save one book, I wouldn’t have to think about my choice. I know exactly where it is located, even though I picked it up at a library used-book sale more than forty years ago.
The book is entitled “20,000 Years in Sing Sing”, by Warden Lewis E Lawes. It was first copyrighted in 1932 and the edition I have was published on 1942. I’m sure this book is out of print, but this is one book that should never be out of print.
Warden Lawes worked his entire life as a supervisor of a prison. He worked tirelessly for reform of penal institutions in the United States. His methods were sound, effective, and revolutionary. However, his reforms were not universally accepted. The system still has problems long after Lawes left the scene.
Early in his career, Lawes found that the most common model for reformatories and prisons was based upon mistrust, fear, and force. He was not naive in his approach to prisoners, but his focus was more on the effectiveness of interacting with inmates. He wanted to know, “What approach was more effective and productive?” He said, “No prison can be run without discipline and obedience. But it should be the discipline and obedience born of respect and understanding (p. 152).
To sum up, Lawes’ approach to prisoners was to treat them with mutual respect, trust, and fair dealing with honesty. “We realize, of course, that there are many dangerous men among our prisoners. Men who bear watching. I have found, however, that the gesture of trust will bring its return in honor and faith (p.143).” How did he do this? One example. He brought his wife and children to live with him inside the walls of Sing Sing Prison in New York. His trust was returned by the inmates.
How did this book change my life?
I was a teacher of young adolescents for twenty-five years. After reading this book, I decided to change the way I interacted with each student.
On the first day of school, I would introduce myself to the students and I say that my main goal for the year was to treat each student with dignity and respect. My only request was that they treat each other and me in the same manner. That was it. I also said that on the last day of the school year, I was going to ask every student to hold me accountable. How did I do?
With that approach, I became a more effective teacher and facilitator, not an adversary to be defeated at all costs.
The applications of this approach for anyone who works within an institution are endless. The ills of society are showing up in record numbers. Governments are being cited as useless and hopeless because their work is being gummed up with inaction. And, the inaction appears intentional. We need new ways to interact with one another. If we were to dedicate ourselves to treating each other with mutual dignity and respect, we might be able to come together and begin finding solutions rather than adding to the growing number of problems.
What do you think? Can you see any applications for interacting more effectively with others? In families? In neighborhoods? In work places? In cities? In institutions? Among friends? Your comments are welcome.
I will occasionally post my recommendations for new poetry publications and other writings. I’ll start with new books that I find regionally.
My findings may be late to the party of new books but I want to share some of my discoveries.
I’ll start with a poet in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Ricardo Ruiz. He is the son of a migrant worker family in an Eastern Washington farming community. He was born in the United States, and his mother and father eventually gained legal resident status, while others in the community remained undocumented.
The source material for his poems are conversations he had with migrant worker families in his community. Some speak both Spanish and English, and others only speak Spanish. The book, We Had Our Reasons, is printed in both English and Spanish on alternating pages. Ruiz thinks of the book’s spine as the border between two countries.
Ruiz interviewed the people and the poems came from those conversations.
These poems are meant to be open conversations with others about an immigrant community’s experiences. Ruiz says, “It’s a start.”
We all need a way to start understanding one another. I like Ruiz’s approach using poetry. I’ve ordered my copy from Amazon.