Poems Can Be About Anything (a workshop with poet Pattiann Rogers)

The Regional Poets present Castle Rock poet Pattiann Rogers in a special reading and workshop April 5-6 at the Loveland Museum, “The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills.” Rogers gives local poets advice to help them improve their craft.

By Shelley Widhalm

A poem can be about anything, from something mundane like soda crackers to something a bit bigger like the stars.

“That’s what’s fun about it. Nobody can say, ‘That’s not right,’” said Castle Rock, Colo., poet Pattiann Rogers, author of 14 poetry books, including her latest, “Quickening Fields.”

Rogers presented a 2 ½-hour workshop April 6 about poetry techniques and ways of entering the poem as part of the Regional Poets’ effort to bring state and national poets to Loveland, Colo. The four poets, including Veronica Patterson, Lynn Kincanon, Lorrie Wolfe and Caroline Orman, organize biannual readings, followed by a workshop the next day, in April and August.

National Poetry Month

The April reading and workshop coincide with National Poetry Month, a celebration of poetry organized by the Academy of American Poets with daily suggestions for reading, writing and engaging with poetry. The idea is to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

“Part of what she brings in is the stir, chaos and grandeur of what’s going on around us,” said Patterson, Loveland’s poet laureate, about Rogers, a nature and environmental poet. “The clarification and magnification of being is what Pattiann Rogers does with all of her work.”

Rogers’ reading and workshop, “National Poetry Month Brings Pattiann Rogers to Loveland: The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills,” made engaging with poetry fun, interesting and accessible.

“You have that freedom. That’s what drew me to poetry,” Rogers said, adding that even with fixed forms, there is freedom as long as you entice and engage with the readers. “Poetry is communication. You have to give your readers something to call them back to the poem, to engage with it.”

Poetry Discipline

The freedom, however, requires discipline, Rogers said

“Because of the freedom, you have to discipline yourself in different ways, so you have a piece of music,” Rogers said. “When you are writing without a fixed form, you have to pay attention to accented or unaccented syllables and will it be one with your subject? You have to make the judgment yourself if you’re not writing with a fixed form to guide you.”

Rogers presented four poetry prompts for the 35 poets attending the workshop and gave them a handout with advice on titling a poem and figuring out where and how to make line and stanza breaks. She said she taught workshops for years and found students had trouble with the title.

“It can totally make a poem,” Rogers said, explaining that readers will read the title, the poem and the title again. “It can tell something important that you can’t work into the poem.”

Title and Breaks

Rogers suggested the title shouldn’t just announce the subject but add something to the poem, indicate another level of meaning and stimulate the reader’s curiosity.

“You have to offer your readers something to pay them back for their attention and time,” Rogers said.

As for line breaks, Rogers suggested ending on a strong word in sound and meaning and in a way that enhances the poem’s tone.

“What’s it going to look like on the page? You have to have a reason for breaking the line. Where is it that you want a pause or a word to be emphasized?” Rogers said.

Stanza breaks establish “a space of silence within a poem” and can be used to set the poem’s pace, Rogers said.

“You never quit learning about craft,” Rogers said. “You make your own decisions. That’s part of the freedom.”

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