For me there is magic in writing with others. A group of my poet friends and I gather every month (or try to make it every month) to generate poems together. PoGens we call ourselves. We each bring a poem by someone else to read, then offer a prompt. I set my meditation timer for 10 minutes, we all write, and when the bell chimes we stop. We go around and each read what we’ve written. Then we do it again.
At the end of the two hours we spend together there are 16 new poems in the world. During the sessions, themes and images and vibrations start to move among us and the writing deepens and builds. Being in the physical presence of others who are writing creates an energy of its own that makes its way on to the page. The opening poem and prompt light the fire, but the commitment to expression, and to sharing the process of expression, is what feeds the flames, what keeps us all burning.
This week I’m at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in a workshop led by Joan Wickersham, the author of The News From Spain and The Suicide Index. If you haven’t read them, do so. Her writing is honest, authentic, searing, tender and brilliant.
She’s also a terrific teacher and so far the week has been instructive, supportive, and magical. The 10 of us in the workshop all have a piece that’s being critiqued by the group, and even when it’s not my piece being discussed I learn a lot. What I learned from the group’s response to the beginning of my memoir, which I brought to be workshopped, was invaluable.
But most magical is the writing we’re doing together. Joan gives us a reading every night which we discuss the next day. Then she gives us a prompt and we write for 20 minutes. Like PoGens, after the writing we all share what has come out in those 20 minutes. Everyone in the group is a good writer so what’s been produced through the prompts has been predictably good. And getting better. The pieces we wrote this morning were excellent, every one of them. The energy we create talking to each other about our writing, being honest with each other about the piece we’ve brought for critique, bending our heads together over paper for 20 minutes to respond to a prompt is pulling us all into our most creative and expressive selves. Magic.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s chemistry and how being with others who’ve arranged their lives in order to spend a week in Provincetown, bending their heads over pads of paper to write about an object or a photograph or a memory allows us to write at our best. We’re not alone. We’re not crazy. We’re writers.