I did it. I went to a writers’ conference. It was frightening, scary, exciting, exhausting, and the best thing I’ve done for my writing in a long time. In my 2017 goals post, I listed a number of things I was planning to do this year and this was goal number eleven. It turned out to not be so easy to find a conference to attend that had a poetry track, which is currently my main focus in writing. There aren’t that many and some have a selection process to that you have to submit an application to be accepted into. Sadly, one of those rejected my application.
Early in my search I came across the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference (MCWC) and found a poetry master class taught by Shara McCallum. Yeah, I didn’t know her either, but she turned out to be the best poetry teacher I’ve had and the most gifted poet I’ve had the privilege of talking to. You’ll want to check out her recent poetry book, Madwoman.
I had to submit ten poems to workshop and I have to say, I was a bit pleased when I found that I had ten poems stashed away on my computer of a quality that I wasn’t embarrassed to send out to eleven people I don’t know. Each of the attendees had three selected to be discussed in workshop.
No, I am not going to tell you which three. Some day I might, but that day is not today.
The process of the class was to do some general discussion of poetry topics, some exercises – which one morning included yoga (lucky for me the conference photographer was elsewhere while we were doing this in the courtyard) – and finally we’d discuss the work of the group’s poets. It was wonderful to engage in productive, honest, and supportive conversation about the works. Shara has a talent of asking insightful and thought-provoking questions. The conversations that came out of that deepened my understanding of poems and the craft of poetry.
I’d like to report that I was happy and eager to have my three poems discussed, but I wasn’t. I was a mass of nerves and unnamed free-floating anxieties. I don’t take criticism well. Externally it might look like I take it well, but underneath the thank you and vague smile is that fear of not being even being adequate. Yes, I know that’s not true, but emotions do weird things and are often hard to control.
In the end, I formed a bond with my group which was truly trying to help each other. The wonderful comments I received and suggestions for revision proved to be worth every bit of the emotional work of just being in that room.
On the first day of class, Shara had us introduce ourselves and say what we were expecting to get out of the workshop. I’ll admit that I hadn’t really considered the question very deeply and when my turn came I said something like, “Yes, I am looking for something. I am a pilgrim at heart, wandering around looking for stuff. So, I am here to find something.”
Shara, asked me to tell her after the class what I found. I promised a blog post. This post.
I found a group of poets and writers like myself who struggle for the right words – a group of people who came together for three days to help each other and learn.
I found new insights, new skills, and inspirations.
I found my writing self re-energized.
I’ve found strength and confidence to continue my pilgrim journey to the next destination.