Wyoming Arts Council

WyoPoets annual workshop in Casper on Hybrid-Genre poetry

WyoPoets gathered on Friday evening and Saturday, April 21 and 22, for their annual open mike readings and all-day poetry workshop. Workshop presenter was Lee Ann Roripaugh.

We gathered on Friday evening at Metro Coffee Company to have our poetry reading. Beginning with Lee Ann, twelve poets read selections of their own work against the buzz of the coffee shop, while two of us, one of them myself, the other Susan Mark, a terrific poet who also lives in Cheyenne and works at the state library, played our instruments, me on the ukelele and Susan on guitar, sang our original songs. Susan also plays the penny whistle really well! This was the first year that WyoPoets has had their reading outside of the venue where the next day’s workshop is held. A few of the customers at Metro drifted into the back room and listened. One young man stood off to the side of the stage and began to sing back-up with one of Susan’s songs. That’s one reason I love the atmosphere of the coffee shop setting for things like this — there is always an element of spontaneity, kind of like having a party. Metro has been a big supporter of the arts since they opened for business. Visual art is always on display, and there have been many poetry slams held there, thanks to Casper poet and teacher George Vlastos, who organizes many of them.

The next morning Lee Ann introduced us to hybrid-genre poetry by way of asking us to try and define what makes a poem a poem, and what makes a story a story. The lines begin to blur, as what seems to hold true for what makes a poem a poem are also the same devices that make a story a story, with a few exceptions. Here are some of the definitions from the class:

Poems make an immediate emotional connection to the reader; reader allowed more license to interpretation; contains complexity in shorter form, yet large themes emerge; imagery important; condensed, fast; poetry most true of the forms; prevailing trend is to assume that poetry is autobiographical; bigger truths in poetry; poetry a denser onion; microscopic in a sense.

What makes a story: linear; facts and details move the narrative; usually has more characters; plot; craft feature technical talents of the fiction writer; fiction allowed to wear mask of fiction; different field of vision; wide-angled; moments where the close-up lens is used.

Lee Ann handed out some examples of some terrific work by Robert Hass, Julia Alvarez, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kimiko Hahn, Li-Young Lee, Erin Noteboom and a sample of a prose poem experiment of Lee Ann’s, modeled in the form of e-mail spam.

Publishing houses and presses still want to categorize works of creative writing — prose poem, flash fiction, novel, braided essay — and want authors to name them, too, but it does sometimes become problematic in identifying a piece of creative writing that doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into a category.

Here is short prose poem by Robert Hass, “A Story About the Body”

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused or considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–like music–withered, very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept them from the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.

In the afternoon session, we talked about Haibun, (also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haibun), a combination of prose and haiku poetry. Here’s one I did.

“Ain’t No Small Thing”

What else can be said, what else can I tell you about love? How it must start from a new place every day? That it is best to forget everything about yesterday? I once saw three horses roll over onto their backs in a mostly bare-dirt, mushroom-colored, field, patchy with scruffy sagebrush bushes. The horses, one black, one paint, one appaloosa, squirmed about, their heads and hindquarters arcing one way, then the other, then just lying still, twelve hooves running on the sky. But I would never see this again. One horse was sold. Another died. The last one stood at the fence and listened for all of us to return. 

A cloud of red dust

Hangs in the air questioning

Why are you going back

Other links to read about Lee Ann:

http://www.octopusgardenhome.blogspot.com/; www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/360

–Linda Coatney

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