Carving Poetry Out Of The Writing Process At OSU Writing Retreat

OSU Writing Project Retreat 2015
OSU Writing Project Retreat 2015

I have been looking forward to the OSU Writing Project Retreat for weeks. As the days drew nearer, I envisioned teacher/writers curled up in wing-back chairs in a student lounge, tapping away at keyboards, or scratching pencils across paper. Or maybe we’d meet in groups, listen to presentations, and then move off into our individual worlds. This retreat was better than that. Moments after our facilitators welcomed us to the retreat, they provided us with a quick write assignment. No prompt — unless you wanted one. I wrote about my goals for the day:

My goals for today include organizing my novel into a three act structure — just painting those broad brushstrokes so I can see where I’m going in the story. I also want to write my opening scene and possibly the inciting incident. I also need to flesh out some of my characters.

What actually happened was even better than that. During our morning creative writing session, our facilitator asked us to make a list. So I created a list of my main characters. Then everyone else in our group shared theirs, including a retired OSU professor, who shared her poetic list of things on her mind. It included these lines:

Always, the kids: sons & daughter Older than when I birthed them

This line struck a nerve with me. While my children are only 15 and 11, they are both growing up before my eyes, and it will not be long before they are the same ages as I was when I brought them into this world. I made a note of her line in the notebooks provided, and returned to my work.

Poetry Notes
Inspired by a poet…

I started planning the structure of my novel and renamed a couple of characters. Then, right before lunch, I found out that the work we plan to submit to the retreat anthology was due by 2 p.m. Sorry, but I can’t pass up an opportunity to be published, and that line still tickled the back of my mind. So, I started playing with it while I ate my lunch.

Working on a poem
Quietly recording my ideas.

I wasn’t sure exactly what format the poem would take, but I knew it had something to do with the power of water and the inevitability of time. I kept envisioning the tsunami footage from Thailand in 2004.

I kept writing and editing until my ideas began to take shape.

Carving a poem out of ideas...
Carving a poem out of ideas…

Then I transferred the ideas to my computer, making sure to put one image in each verse. Then I asked Dr. Britton Gildersleeve, whose work inspired my poem, if she would read it for me. Not only did she do so, but she asked if I would mind a critique — which is the best part, in my opinion — and preceeded to refresh my memory on poetic structure and inspired several revisions in just a few minutes. Her advice: In poetry, the position of power is at the beginning and end of the line. I want my best words in those positions. I chopped several articles and prepositions on that advice alone. She also reminded me that I need to strike any cliches and replace them with imagery. After asking Oklahoma Reading Specialist Sharon Edge Martin for the same critique assistance, I felt I’d pared my writing down to the poem. Here is the final draft, as published in Moment, the OSU Writing Project Retreat Anthology:

Waterfall by Michelle Waters
Waterfall, published in Moment, the 2015 OSU Writing Project Retreat anthology
Moment: 2015 OSU Writing Project Retreat anthology
Moment: 2015 OSU Writing Project Retreat anthology

I thought I’d go to this retreat and spend time writing. I did. But it was better than that. I made new friends, wrote and published a poem, and gained confidence. I also learned: Poetry isn’t about putting words on paper. It’s about carving away words until the poetry remains.

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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