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Poetry Workshops Develop New Talent - 2002-04-11

In the United States, April is designated as National Poetry Month. Since there is an abundance of poetry events at this time of the year, American poets and poetry lovers are busier than ever.

At the poetry workshop in Arlington, Virginia, people read and discuss one another's poems. Judy Neri says feedback from her peers was very helpful. "Most important, I think I learned is that, since I had set up a parallelism of the two very different kinds of points of view, I needed to keep a very strict parallelism in the actual writing and the two parts (of the poem) should have the same number of lines," she said.

Judy Neri says she is preparing to publish a small collection of poetry and is very eager to know how it might be received. Attending a poetry workshop is a first step in that direction. "Because it gives you an idea of how other people see what you've written," she said. "You know, just as you can't really proofread very well your own stuff, you need someone else to do it because you don't see certain things. The same things with workshops - [they] can help you see what you've done in a different light."

Judy Neri's poem "The Why of It All" has already been published in the respectable magazine Poet Lore, but she says it can still be improved.

The Arlington Poetry Workshop is a yearly two-day event sponsored by the county government. Kim Roberts, a poet at the county's Cultural Affairs Division, says the workshop is part of a larger effort to enhance the life of Arlington residents through the arts. She says many people have embraced the idea of a National Poetry Month.

"For example, in Arlington, we have several poetry readings scheduled in different locations throughout Arlington County. We have a visiting poet coming through and giving a workshop. I know that I get booked for a lot more readings in April than other times of the year to read my own poetry. So it has helped spur people to think about having poetry in their daily lives," she said.

Kim Roberts says the Arlington poetry workshop enjoys a good reputation in the Washington metropolitan area. Hundreds of poets apply, but only about a dozen are invited to participate in the competitive event. Grace Cavalieri, a poet and poetry teacher from West Virginia, conducted the workshop this year.

"Everyone submits poems ahead of time. We then take one poem at a time and workshop it [have members of the workshop comment on it] and the author is not allowed to say anything," she said.

The author does not even read his or her own poem. The idea is to let the poet hear it from someone else. "The people talk about the elements of poetry: tone, diction, image, mood, feeling thinking everything for ten minutes and then the last minute - the author is allowed to say something," Ms. Cavalieri said.

The teacher's main role is to keep the discussion focused and make sure everyone gets an equal chance to speak. Grace Cavalieri says the goal is to give the author a sense of what was good in his or her poem and consider what could be changed. "We don't fix other people's poetry. We just ask them to consider what we think about it. And then the author can go back and throw it out if they don't want it [our opinion], you know, take it or leave it," she said.

Ms. Cavalieri says the workshops are ultimately discussions about the poetic craft. Sometimes they help form poets such as Kim Roberts, who organized this event.

Here is an excerpt of one of her early poems "The Floor is Sticky"":

Robert is on a mission:
He wants to learn how to say "The floor
Is sticky" in every language,
Or rather, every language in which its
(Its women) drink beer in bars.
He thinks it is a good ice-breaker.
He's just learned it in Dutch, and now
I can't get it out of my head:
"De vloer plakt, de vloer plakt."
I love the way other languages feel
In the back of my throat, the parts of
the mouth
The English doesn't use.
When I was a kid I used to speak
A Gibberish that I thought sounded
Convincingly foreign.
I would bicycle to the beach where
I could speak it
Into the wind loudly without embarrassment...

Kim Roberts has published poems in many American as well as foreign magazines. She says poetry workshops have been an important stepping stone in her development.