We’ve all heard the phrase, “The best way to learn something is to teach it.” Well, now that I’m teaching poetry writing I’m learning all sorts of new things. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work with the poets in my nature poetry workshop at the Hitchcock Center. Every writer has such a unique voice and perspective on things. Many of the writing prompts start everyone out in the same place, but where they go with it is always a surprise.
One of the prompts I gave, on the day we focused on questions as a way of encountering subjects, was why are question marks shaped the way they are? There were several answers: it is a bowl tipped up; it is a hand; it is an ear. Lovely ideas.
Last night I brought in beets as a prompt—not whole beets, but thin, horizontal slices of a larger beet, showing concentric circles resembling tree rings. The places people went! One person saw a third eye, another saw a geode. I saw the seven circles of hell and walked down them and back up again with Persephone—and yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors. I’m allowed!
It’s been said by several of my favorite teachers that the best way into writing a poem is to start with something concrete—an image, or better yet, an actual object. It’s easier for me to find these things when I’m charged with bringing them in to the group each week. I am finding that the poems I’ve been wanting to write, poems dealing with the ancient Greek gods and their timeless stories, come much more easily when I start with a natural object. The gods are, after all, manifestations of natural forces, so it makes sense to approach them through elements of nature—although I wouldn’t have figured that out so soon without the help of this workshop I’ve been teaching. I’ve been trying for a year now to write these poems, and as it turns out, the roundabout way was the way in, at least the way into the hellish world of a beet.