Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Write and Seek: Serious Poetry Play

Workshop Number: 
Su Penn
Who may register?: 
High Schoolers Only
Experiential Activities: 

What have poets written about Quaker faith and practice? How do poets make the ordinary transcendent? What can poetry do that other writing can't? Can poetry change the world? Can poetry change us? And, perhaps most importantly, what do we have to say, and can poetry help us say it?

Workshop Description

"To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too."

                        --Walt Whitman, "Ventures on an Old Theme"

"Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own."

                        --Dylan Thomas

"Poetry makes nothing happen."

                        --W. H. Auden

I have a talent for poetry.

Not writing it. Every piece of poetry I've ever attempted has been not very good.

But I'm good at reading it. I love poetry, and I understand it pretty well. I know a lot about all kinds of poetry.

I know that there is a lot more to it than most people are aware of. I know that it's easy to give up on poetry because so much of it is not very good. I know that when I say "not very good" I mean "terrible" but am being polite.

I like helping people find the better stuff. I have a gift for finding poems that make people say, "I don't usually like poetry, but I liked that." I am the truffle-sniffing pig of poetry, I can smell the good stuff even when it's 25 feet underground. 

I know that some poetry is hard to understand. I love guiding people through a difficult poem, so that we understand it better and can decide for ourselves what it's worth to us. I am the Sherpa of difficult poetry: I've been up that mountain before, and I can help you conquer the peak. 

Our week will be loosely organized into some themes, though we will digress and meander as our interests and Spirit lead us. We'll have time every day for writing, whether that's poetry, journal-writing, or responses to what we've read. Some people may prefer to sketch. Sharing is encouraged but not required. We'll also spend time in worship or worship-sharing every day.

I'll provide everything we need, including copies of all the poems I've chosen, but feel free to bring your own journals, favorite pens, sketchbooks, and poems.

Monday: Three centuries of Quaker poets.
Tuesday: One of the greatest poems of the twentieth century is about an old fish: How poetry finds the transcendent in the ordinary.
Wednesday: If poetry does nothing, why can you go to prison for it? Poetry and social change.
Thursday: "I was never the same after that": Poetry and personal transformation.
Friday: The hodgepodge: We'll pick up dropped threads, read stuff that didn't fit into our categories, and just share things we like.

Some poets we might read: John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, James Arlington Wright, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Essex Hemphill, Muriel Rukeyser, June Jordan, Robin Becker, Anna Akhmatova, Carolyn Kizer, Adrianne Rich, Kenny Fries, Eli Clare, Mark Doty, Sherman Alexie, Danielle Montgomery, and whoever comes to mind between now and July.

If you're not sure whether this workshop will be a good fit for you, feel free to e-mail me. Let me know if you have a poem you'd especially like us to read together and I will include it.

Leader Experience

I taught writing at the community college level for more than ten years. I've led my Song of Myself workshop a half-dozen or so times now, always with good results. I've taught Adult Religious Education on a number of topics, as well as leading book groups in my community. I've led one or two weekend writing workshops at retreat centers. I've worked with a 14-year-old poet in my homeschool community and really enjoyed it; at last summer's gathering, I had a chance to speak with a group from the high school gathering about FLGBTQC, and I think we all enjoyed it.