Keeping an Open Mind
By Jen Parks, Bluegrass Writers Studio
“I’m not a poet.”
Add that to the long list of things that I swore I’d never do: work in an operating room, run a marathon, become a vegetarian, go back to school. The list goes on. You would think that at thirty-four years old, I would’ve figured it out by now: that karma has a way of reminding me to keep an open mind, and that the path I have directions for isn’t always the one I end up following. I'm a vegetarian marathoner who works in an operating room, and am currently working on my second Master's degree.
When I started at Bluegrass Writers Studio eight months ago, I wanted to learn how to write a novel. Not a short story. Not a non-fiction essay or a poem. Novels and that’s it. However, if there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it is that you get out of something what you put into it. I approached the poetry and creative non-fiction lectures at the winter residency with the philosophy that even though I had no real interest in focusing my creative writing efforts there, I would still probably come away with some nugget of advice that I could use to apply to fiction. And while I did find this expectation to be, for the most part, true, I was not prepared for what happened next.
For the first time at the residency, an optional yoga class – led by my workshop instructor, Julie Hensley – was offered. At the end of the class, we were encouraged to take a few minutes to write whatever came to mind. Both times that I attended, I wrote poetry. When I told her that I had written poems prior to starting the program, she encouraged me to take a poetry workshop at some point. I replied with an incredulous, “You can do that? Even if you’re not a poet?” She replied that I could. I learned then that Ms. Hensley herself teaches both poetry and fiction, and that many of my fellow classmates regularly cross genres.
While I’m are not required to take courses in a different genre, I cannot help but see the benefits. I have taken many of the things that I learned at the residency about non-fiction and poetry – with regard to compression, syntax, sound, and volta – and have applied them to plot, sentence structure, character, and point of view. They have become invaluable tools that I now use when revising a chapter of fiction or when preparing to read aloud a piece of flash fiction.
Since the winter residency, I have continued to write poetry in addition to fiction. I have been lucky enough to find a fellow classmate willing to read my poetry and kind enough to offer me encouragement, as well as tips and suggestions for improvement. At my core, I still prefer the novel form. But for now, I’ll keep the “I’m not” statements to myself, and keep my eyes and ears open.
Published on April 09, 2014