My writing group met last night: we've been going at it, in various incarnations, since 1991, although of the eight poets currently attending, only two of us are original members. In '91, with a three-and-five-year-old at home, I was desperate for the company of other poets. I put out a call for poets in a small local monthly newsletter called Poetry Exchange, and soon received a handful of responses from other poets interested in a twice-monthly critique group. We met at a local library, until a clearly mentally-unwell man, who claimed to be a poet, drove us from the public venue (where we were not allowed to exclude him).
As with any group that meets for an extended period of time, life's experiences have not passed us by. In the past 19 years, we've sustained death, divorce, illness, births (of the grandchildren variety), home purchases & sales, business successes & failures, publications of every kind and travel to various far-flung corners of the planet. Professions/occupations of members have included: physician, nurse, photographer, glass artist, grant-writer, professor, baker, Buddhist-nun-in-training, poet-in-the-schools and secretary. In 1994 we launched a small nonprofit publishing company: Floating Bridge Press, which thrives -- and in the black -- with its well-respected collection of chapbooks and anthologies. (Only one of the founding board members still plays an active role in this all-volunteer organization.)
Since fleeing the public library, we've been meeting monthly in members' homes. We're a dynamic and rousing group: the wine flows freely (or, as in the case of last night, vodka-tonics with the addition of a mysterious Italian liqueur), as does the wit. Snacks run the gamut from popcorn to pickled peppers to plum pie. Poets (hopefully, myself included, though I'm speaking here of others) possess a capacity for tenderness and perception that I rarely experience elsewhere. In this group, we strive to practice a modicum of restraint when evaluating each others' poems -- honesty without personal attack.
(I recall a University of Washington writing class I took taught by a visiting poet, who would mercilessly slice-and-dice poems/poets while standing on her pedestal in front of the class. Needless to say, I left that class with no respect for the instructor. She was an example of How Not To Conduct Oneself. The following year, a poem/poet she had eviscerated was the recipient of one of the university's prestigious undergraduate awards. Ha!
By contrast, in a workshop taught by Richard Hugo, he lovingly and with the utmost respect addressed the self-loathing expressed by a young poet in one of her poems: it was an incredibly moving experience.)
Last night's subject included:
-a jigsaw puzzle
The vocabulary included, among others, the following words:
This language, these poets, sustain me, have sustained me, will continue to sustain me.
From time to time I entertain the fantasy of entertaining the group at the Ireland house. Possible? Yes. Likely? Probably not.