WHAT I LEARNED FROM A POET

For a couple of amazing weeks in July, I attended the Sewanee Writers Conference.   I took a a few pages of my third novel, very much a work in progress, along with me.  Jill McCorkle and Tony Earley were my workshop  leaders, and I cannot even begin to thank them both for their insight and advice.  The Funeral Dress will no doubt be a better book for having been there.

Days and nights were filled with readings and craft lectures, workshops, and yes, cocktail parties and one very dark mothing expedition where I saw more bats than moths.  But the greatest discovery, for me, was poetry.

The gods must have known what they were doing when they assigned my roommate – a poet – a poet who thankfully woke up every morning before 6 am just like I did.  First, Lisa opened my eyes (usually after a strong cup of coffee) to the emotional, heartfelt, human poetry of Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson.  Then she patiently taught me a little about meter and narrative form.  But more than anything else, she taught me to look at my own work, my own fiction, with the eyes of a poet.

As a journalist, I always thought I used words sparingly, appropriately.  I’ve spent hours staring at the computer searching for just the right word – the word that conveys the right emotion, that carries the right rhythm.  But now I was suddenly paying attention to the movement and message of each and every word on the page – thinking about the best, most powerful, most economical way to describe a character, a scene, a moment with more determination that I ever had.  When you are writing with few words, you must use them as wisely and as powerfully as you can.

I will never be a poet, but I found myself reveling in its beauty. And I found myself appreciating its instructive nature for a fiction writer.  I will write poems someday, for no one but myself.  But that will be a gift in and of itself.

Posted August 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm · comment · Leave a Comment

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Susan Gregg Gilmore