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A Little More Conversation

Bluegrass Writers in Lisbon. Photo credit Steven Tagle.

By Bernie Deville, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     One of the major reasons I am carrying away a cache of fresh thinking from Bluegrass Writers Studio’s Summer Residency at Disquiet International is that I opted  to take one of the extra Tuesday/Thursday morning classes. This was not a real burden on my schedule due to having all my line edits complete before coming to Portugal, and the class itself only met four times though there was homework for every class.

     Adventures in Form, with David Caplan, poetry instructor from the MFA program at Ohio Wesleyan was a real treat. He had sent out a packet 10 days before the program with a series of poems we were going to cover, and a syllabus for the four sessions. The first day was devoted to one line poems, reading and explicating Albert Goldbarth’s “1400” Amy Clampitt’s “Paumanok” and Yeh November’s “Mincha.” After discussions of different strategies for creating one line poems each student had the last half hour to write, and then read a one line poem. Since there were only six students (3 poets and three fiction/essay writers) meeting in the Library of the Centro Nacional de Cultura, David decided that each session would have two student volunteers revise their poems at home and e-mail them to him. He then brought copies to the next class meeting to be workshopped. I was in the first group, and my one line poem will be one of the poems I submit to the EKU Center for International Education with gratitude for the scholarship I received.

      The second session proved to be one of the most interesting, the topic being “Reversals & Rethinkings” and examined examples of sonnets, villanelles, and terza rima. Since I live in the four-wheeling free verse realm, and the two literature classes I have had to this point have covered genre fiction and humor in film, this was a golden opportunity to review some basics I hadn’t looked at in a while. The class had interesting discussions about turns and micro-turns; the reversal process was described as a way to imitate human thinking, posing a problem, argument, counter-argument, and solution.

    Since David had made himself available to any student who wanted to meet with him and discuss a poem or two after class, I met with him after the third class, went over several things, and had a long talk about my vocabulary, phrasing, poetic aims, and the styles I was using. He recommended four poets for me to go back and read, including one of the modernists I hadn’t thought about as much as others, W.H. Auden. Both he and my Monday/Wednesday/Friday workshop leader, Erica Dawson, also urged me to try working with a few standard forms as a container for some of my linguistic adventures that struggle in a more modern diction. Their efforts prompted me to write my first sonnet in about three decades, though it needs a lot more work before appearing before others.

     The last two classes covered a host of authors and topics I hadn’t run into on a formal basis before, “Erasure and Juxtaposition” and “Minimalism and Maximalism.” Works by James Merrill, Anthony Hecht, and others provoked some interesting and expansive discussions. In light of what I learned, the writing, and the workshopping, this extra Tuesday/Thursday session, in addition to being free, was priceless.

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Kristen Thompson

Published on July 30, 2014

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