Last Monday afternoon was the first meeting in 2016 of “Writing from the Heart,” a women’s AWA workshop in Purcellville. I like to start a new session with a “getting to know you” exercise. Sometimes it’s a verbal sharing of what we’re working on or what we like to write, and sometimes it’s a short piece of writing about ourselves. On Monday, I asked everyone to write for 5 minutes in response to this prompt (why don’t you try it, too?)
“If I could write anything, it would be . . .”
While I felt certain this prompt would be a good one, I was deeply gratified by the insightful and often breathtaking writing that was produced in a mere 5 minutes! Not only did I feel honored to have a window into the heart’s desires of the workshop participants, I also learned something about my own. Here’s what I wrote in response to the prompt:
If I could write anything, it would be wild, lyrical, loud,
arms-flung-open, drinking-the-rain poems,
poems that make the blood pound through the veins,
poems that slam you to the ground and haul you up again,
poems that reveal the secrets of the universe,
poems that bite your neck,
poems that carry you on currents of joy,
poems that say yes,
poems that say now,
poems that dare you to dive off the cliff,
poems without end.
I didn’t know I felt this way until I wrote it, not really. But ever since I took my first AWA workshop with Maggie Butler many years ago, poetry has sneaked its way into my writing. I have long admired poets like Mary Oliver, Anne Sexton, Jane Kenyon, Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, David Whyte, and Rumi (among others), but I have never aspired to be a poet. Yet the allure of writing words so deep and true, so precise and exquisite, so evocative and visual, compels me to try my hand at it, however imperfectly. What a joy it must be to say exactly what you mean, and to do it in a way that is both particular and universal! Such is the poet’s gift.
I have many poetry books on my shelves, as well as how-to books filled with prompts. One that I especially like is called The Practice of Poetry, and I have used some of its exercises in my workshops. If you’d like to give writing poems a try, that might be a good place to start.
To whet your appetite, here is one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. May you savor every line.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.