I admire the people who take my classes and other classes at the Loft and elsewhere. Not only do they step into the classroom with courage — not knowing who else will be in the group, or what kind of experience they’ll have — but they also allow themselves to be vulnerable to whatever their muse has in store for them during that time period. They face that terrifying blank page alone, as all writers do. They generously work together and support one another. They listen kindly, but actively, making thoughtful comments that encourage improvement. They often form a tightly knit community that sometimes continues to meet even after the class is finished. What’s not to love?
Over the past several years, I have developed a system to communicate my admiration as well as to strengthen the bonds between individuals in the class. I call it my “Loft Class Loveletter” and it goes out via email during the week between class sessions. It’s not quite an online class, but it does deliver extra content, and the students are sometimes bemused but always appreciative. Here is an example of a loveletter:
Good morning, Poets. According to the late and much-beloved William Stafford, “The action of writing is the successive discovery of cumulative epiphanies in the self’s encounter with the world.” First of all, notice that Stafford refers to writing as an action. Writing is an active activity. It’s not just plodding along, putting one word after another. It’s a wild and wonderful adventure. Think of writing that way next time you feel stuck. Verbal jumping jacks! You can’t force epiphanies but you can be there to recognize and greet them.
I hope all your encounters with the world this week are full of discovery. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:
1) Dump the adjectives. Unless they are fresh and somehow surprising, they rarely add anything to your poems. If you don’t believe me, take one of your lines, read it aloud, dump the adjectives and read it again. See?
2) Make sure your tenses are consistent. A poem set in the present tense is often more immediate than past tense. Just make sure you don’t switch back and forth or you will lose your reader.
3) Line breaks. We need to have a rationale for our line breaks. Rule of thumb: Don’t have a wide variety of long and short lines in a poem. It stops the reader because the reader is wondering about how the poem looks on the page rather than entering the poem itself. You want your beloved reader to be with you all the way.
4) Rule of thumb regarding rules of thumb: You can break the rules later, after you are famous. …
(I often add a model poem and one or two extra assignments before I sign off.)
I try to offer a variety of prompts and assignments. If people are having difficulties accessing something, there are always more choices. My goal is to keep people writing. I sometimes offer links and discussion points, resulting in some lively email conversations within the group.
Yes, the goal is to keep writing. If we keep writing, something good will happen. It’s like any kind of practice. If more people wrote — from the heart, the soul, the spirit — more good would happen in the world. If politicians wrote poetry… well, don’t get me started. Instead, why not send out your own loveletter to someone who might be surprised by it? Include a poem or inspiring quote and some heartfelt thoughts of your own. Again, what’s not to love?