I don’t consider myself a poet. In fact, most of my writing friends write novels, picture books, or nonfiction – not poetry. So I find it funny that of the four Utah Poets Laureate we’ve had since the position was created in 1997, I’ve known or met all of them. And what’s more, I’ve even known a national Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress – I took a course from Mark Strand when he was a professor at the University of Utah many years ago. (You know how they say everyone has a crush on a professor at some point in their college career? That voice, those eyes, his poetry – yeah. He was pretty crush-worthy at the time.)
Anyway, on Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in a short poetry workshop led by our current Utah Poet Laureate, Lance Larsen.
|Me, receiving my first-place award for a YA novel
in the annual Utah Writing Competition.
Photo courtesy of Utah Div. of Arts & Museums
The workshop was part of the festivities planned around the award ceremony for this year’s Utah Writing Competition, hosted by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums (formerly the Utah Arts Council). Many of the other competition winners apparently decided to only show up for the award ceremony itself. But I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in poetry for an hour, even if whatever I scribbled might be deemed crap by even the least savvy third-grader in my neighborhood.
I had actually met Lance Larsen many years ago when he was part of the faculty at a writing conference I was helping organize. But this time, I had no official duties (other than to receive a first-place prize for my YA novel and to get my photo snapped – that was stressful enough), so I was able to sit, pen in hand, and enjoy Lance’s workshop.
I’m a huge fan of sharpening my writing chops by exploring “out-of-my-comfort-zone” writing styles. After all these years of writing and freelancing, I’ve learned that every type of writing, no matter how mundane or how far afield it may seem, strengthens me as a writer. Reading and writing poetry reawakens my ear to rhythm and my eye to color. Technical writing makes my prose tighter and more succinct. Fiction writing brings better story-telling aspects to my nonfiction articles. Experimental exercises in any genre stretch my boundaries and tap into my creative well.
So on Saturday, Lance had me struggling to describe the word “betrayal” without talking about betrayal. And channeling a seabird. And exploring the structure of repetition. (All that in a single hour, mind you.)
Poetry forces me to examine language (mine, yours, anyone’s) under a microscope. Or perhaps it’s more like cooking, where I try to heat and stir my words until they’ve produced a highly concentrated, richly flavored reduction – an essence of thought and emotion, rather than a full meal of story.
At the end of the workshop, I felt like a kid who’d just spent an hour diving into an overflowing toy box. And even more surprising, I found that one of the characters in my new novel was gleefully taking over my pen and putting his own voice onto the page for me.
Even though I don’t consider myself a poet, I do consider myself a writer. And that means I owe a debt of gratitude to Lance and poets like him who knock me out of my well-worn ruts every now and then to remind me that language is more than a tool. It’s a playground.