GREENSBORO—From “The Iliad” to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” poetry has been a storytelling force for thousands of years. Poetry examines the relationships around us: in politics, myth, and among our families and friends. The genre is unique in its power to engage the listener and serve as a catalyst for change.
At the upcoming North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Spring Conference, attendees have the opportunity to examine this time-honored method of storytelling and search for the deeper connections in the fabric of everyday life in workshops led by three highly acclaimed poets.
In his Tiffany Aching series, Terry Pratchett writes, “There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.” In this workshop, we will consider the power of changing the stories we live among. This may be a matter of re-telling a story, turning it, or tearing it apart. We may consider fairytale retellings (such as Anne Sexton’s Transformations), changes in perspective (such as Gregory McGuire’s Wicked), or examples of ekphrasis (such as W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” or Billy Collins’ “The Brooklyn Museum of Art” in which the narrator walks into a painting by Frederick Edwin Church). In doing so, the emphasis will be on practical exercises to generate material. In addition to looking at submitted poems, we will be taking advantage of the workshop’s two-part structure to generate material and then return to it.
Rachel Richardson, a 2013-14 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and author of two poetry collections, including the forthcoming Hundred-Year Wave (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2016), will lead the poetry workshop, “Excavating Artifacts: Poetry and Documentary Forms.”
How can a poem confront and engage history, politics, place, and myth? For poetry that seeks to explore the past, or witness the present, or speak out of a deeply-rooted landscape, it is easy to revert to comfortable modes of telling. How do we make these stories live, without slipping into nostalgia or polemic? To shake loose our stories and invigorate language and form, it can be helpful to borrow from the documentarian's tools. This workshop will explore ways of writing and revising using primary source documents, such as newspaper articles, family photographs, transcribed interviews, court cases, letters, keepsakes, and more. Participants should bring a couple of "documents" (to be interpreted as loosely as you like) that interest you to work with—anything that has a story to tell. We will spend workshop time discussing published “documentary poems” and their strategies, and doing generative writing exercises that will spark your own poems.
In the afternoon, conference-goers will have the rare opportunity to take a workshop from the presenter of this year’s Keynote Address. Jaki Shelton Green, a 2014 inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, will address the general session at 11:00 am. After lunch, she’ll lead the poetry workshop, “Conversations in the Lines, or Eavesdropping on Yourself.”
What are the relationships you have with your poems that inspire or inhibit your voice from “telling” or showing up? Bring poems that you have strong relationships with. We will explore where these relationships, like kinships and friendships, intersect, collide, marry, divorce, confront, and unite in our poetics. How do these relationships limit or help to push the territory of language? How do these relationships inform, demand, dominate, or suppress? (Secrets, lies, fantasies . . .) There will also be a focus on selected poems that illustrate “what we talk about when we look at ourselves.”
The North Carolina Writers’ Network 2015 Spring Conference will be held Saturday, April 18, in the MHRA Building at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Registration is now open.
The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit www.ncwriters.org.