Spreading Poetry Seeds
by Jan Bosman
I spread poetry seeds wherever I find fertile soil. For example, I am a member of a Writer Wannabe group at the community college in my area. Of the 15 members, only four of us write poetry. We meet every two weeks; and, although we always have a prose writing assignment, I generally submit to the group a poem that I’m working on. I ask for specific suggestions, such as, “Does this poem work on more than one level?” or “Does this material touch the human heart?” Because I am willing to hear suggestions, I hope other members feel more comfortable opening their work up to critique. My RAP (Retired Adult Program) classmates might think I know more than I do, but they also observe that I continue to take workshops to try to improve my craft. And they also see that I submit my poetry to various sources, which always scares me nearly to death. One of my classmates recently sent me a note saying the following: “Wanted to tell you how much your snow poem lingers in my memory.” I was pleased that mounds of dirty, well-churned plow snow this winter reminded her of a poem of mine, written a year before. Some seeds still must have been germinating.
When two of my grandchildren were creating poetry booklets in their 3rd grade classrooms, I wrote a poem for each of them that was included in the booklet. Wallace Stevens the following is not, but “Special Snowflakes” did have a message that 3rd graders could understand—in rhyme:
Snowflakes fall from sky to ground.
Snowflakes flutter all around.
Some land right upon my nose.
Some make patterns on my clothes.
Every snowflake seems to be
shaped completely differently.
Each is special I can see,
very much like you and me.
From Joseph’s Grandma, Jan Bosman
Ironically, when I was in Madison last summer, studying with Angela Rydell in a Write-by-the-Lake workshop, my sister invited me to her writing group at the Middleton Senior Center. There, I led a two-hour poetry seminar. One of my goals was to show the participants what metaphor meant and how the title can function in a poem. Following that session, some of the students e-mailed me poems that they liked or had written, and I commented—doing no harm—on the work. I never pretend to know more than I know in a situation like this, but I take the opportunity to plant a few positive poetry seeds during an afternoon.
Last October at a Delta Kappa Gamma meeting, I spoke about the transition from teacher to writer. In my presentation I included a reading of my poem, “The Bird Feeder,” which was recognized at the WFOP Convention in Stevens Point last fall. I felt that I had done my job of showing, not telling, when I heard gasps from my colleagues as “the hawk ripped strips of flesh from the breast” of the junco in my poem. On April 3 I will conduct a workshop for 50 5th graders. I will work with one of my DKG sisters to plan 45-minutes of poetry fun in Johnsburg, IL. This invitation is a direct result of my talk at the meeting six months before. I will probably use some poetry forms from A Kick in the Head by Paul Janeczko to engage the students. My time with 5th graders will provide another opportunity to plant seeds in fertile ground.
After my husband died, I was asked to discuss “How to Cope with Grief” before a group of registrants in the RAP program at the community college. During my talk, I read from several of Donald Hall’s poems, one of which, “Distressed Haiku” says, "You think that their dying is the worst thing that could happen. Then they stay dead." I also read a stanza of Kathryn Starbuck’s poem, “The Shoe”: "I thanked friends and children for helping me hold on… But when that single shoe, the mate I thought had got sent off with its partner, showed up today, alone, crouching behind the couch, alive with Effie’s opulent Turkish angora fur, I knew solace was something I could neither seek nor find. Oh, beloved! I know I am an old woman. But I cannot live in your shoe."
My audience understood how poetry had helped those writers and me cope at a very difficult time. Some poems touch my heart so clearly that I couldn’t talk about grief without quoting from them. Another such poem is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge without Music.”
I hesitate to foist my poetry on my friends (somehow it feels so desperate), but I do turn to them when I want to get a sense of whether a piece says what I want it to say without “telling.” For example, before the deadline for this year’s Calendar submissions, I had my son, grandson, sister, and two friends rank four poems that I was considering submitting. Then I e-mailed the top three based on my critics’ rankings. From those three one was accepted, so I am indebted to my friends and family for their response. This elite group knows that they are in for more poetry exposure. Often, when my sister and I are talking on the phone, she will say, “I sense you are feeling a poem coming on.” Maybe I do just a little foisting!
So many opportunities present themselves for sowing poetry seeds. For me, speaking about poetry, reading poetry, writing poetry or perfecting my craft are just natural gardening functions; but I am always cautious in my approach to others because I am more of a novice than a Master Gardener.