Documentary Poetry: a workshop with Simone John

By Ma’ayan D’Antonio

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Simone John photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

With the sky overcast, we gathered at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library to the sounds of soft music playing. Simone was busily getting ready for the workshop, on the table lay books of poetry. Among them was Testify, Simone’s debut poetry collection, that revolves around the murder trial of Trayvon Martin. Olio by Tyehimba Jess and Blood Dazzler: Poems by Patricia Smith were also among her examples of documentary poetry.

Simone went around the room asking how everyone was doing, based on a scale of 1-5. Simone said that she was a 4.75, because the sun was not yet shining that day. She then preceded to explain in depth what is documentary poetry. A lot of it is researching an event or issue that is on your mind or that you like, get to know it.

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Workshop photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

For Simone it was mostly what was being said during the murder trial in the death of Trayvon Martin, as well as what people where saying on the social networks. There still are poetic libraries within this form, yet you can pull things from court documents, testimonies, court transcripts, comments that people left on news feeds and so on.

This form of poetry she explained, comes from a place of obsession. It is a way to reflect on the world in a poetic way. “A machine of words.” she said. Find what moves you, hunts you, dig deep into it then write about it.

Simone offered some techniques to consider when writing this or any other kind of poetry:

– Think about tension and how you play with the white space. What is the white space saying, or not saying.

– Think about the view or lens that the poem is taking on.

– Diction and word choice.

– You can have multiple voices in the poem.

– Juxtaposing, comparing things or placing them in conversation with one another.

– Form.

– The writer as the camera, Maggie Nelson does this well.

– Layering texts/ texture. This is a way to use statements that others have made that seem important to the poem.

– Interviews. Olio is an example for what she meant.

With the sun coming out, the poets shared what they had come up with during the workshop. Nothing complete, yet true beginnings.

 

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Workshopping with Kerrin McCadden

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Workshop in progress. Photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

By, Ma’ayan D’Antonio

Kerrin McCadden, is the author of Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, winner of the Vermont Book Award and the New Issues Poetry Prize. As well as a resident of Montpelier. Kerrin held a workshop for reinventing poetry, a way to revise poetry. The workshop took place at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Monday, April 16. Kerrin, humble as she was introduced, wanted to know the participants’ names and where they are with their poetry. As each in turn said their name, they all talked in depth about where they are with their poem, someone even stated that they “accidentally wrote a poem”.

Kerrin, who mostly teaches high school kids finds it wired when grownups sit so still in front of her, “adults” she stated with a laugh. Geof Hewitt and Rick Agran (other PoemCity presenters) were also in attendance. “I’m always looking for new ways to look at poetry,” Agran said when he introduced himself.

Kerrin wanted the participants to be willing to think about how to make a poem work. As well as contemplate what makes a poem work? She explained that we don’t always know what is best for our poem, and at times a poem is not its best self. So how do you make it better? The more you push it around, the more it will tell you when it is done.

She presented an exercise to flex the ‘poet muscle’. To enable contrast try to fit five words that don’t necessarily work together in a poem, this will allow more room for the subconscious creativity to surface what we tend to keep back.

She gave different ways to reinvent a poem.

– Translate the poem into more then one language, then back to English and see what the end results bring. You might be surprised.

– Create tension by shifting focus.

– Take an old poem and write it a companion.

– Consider cutting the openings and endings of a poem and see what you are left with.

– Look at the large scale of the poem to create a new poem, you may find that the small things change into something even better- deeper.

– Change the order in which you give the information to the reader.

– Shift verb tense, try from the past to the future.

– Change the point of view from the I to him or you.

McCadden also suggests to look at a thesaurus, from different publications as well as different decades, to find new and interesting words to use.

Two Days Left to Register for April Ossmann Workshop!

There are only 2 days left to register for April Ossmann’s popular poetry editing workshop. Do you have a pile of poems that you have been working on? Choose one and have professional poetry editor and writer April Ossmann work with you and 7 others in a poetry critique workshop?

When? Sunday, April 28th from 1-4 PM

Where? The all new Storefront Studio at 6 Barre Street

Why? Because it’s a great opportunity. Plus, this workshop which is usually $50-$100 is being offered for only $25 (thanks to the generous support of Montpelier Alive and the Kellogg Hubbard Library)

How? Register by e-mailing info@poem-city.org or going to the Kellogg Hubbard Library.

What? This workshop empowers the poet in the process and engenders a collegial atmosphere. Participants receive editorial suggestions for their one-page poem from the instructor and typed comments from participants. Here is a full description of the workshop. 

Below is  a testimonial about the workshop from April Ossmann’s website.

“Thank you for your words about my poems. I must tell you that Saturday had such an impact on me, that I’m ‘seeing’ them and ‘working’ on them as per the critiquing discussion—word choices, deletions, etc. This hasn’t happened to me before as the result of any workshop…I’ve always thought of this as incubation, but this after-effect is purposeful and focused. It is excellent discipline before hitting the keyboard— or putting pen to paper. Thank you again!
—Peggy Sapphire