Writing has always been a solitary venture. At a reading I attended in Boulder, Colorado, author Michael Connelly commented on how odd author events were for him, since he spent the majority of his time as a writer alone, inside his own head and the heads of his characters. Then suddenly, the book was published and he was thrust upon a stage and expected to speak in front of crowds of people and have something of value to say to them.
It was unsettling, he said, to go from private to public so quickly.
In an interview with Poets.org, the poet Jane Hirshfield said, "My one requirement for writing has always been solitude. . . . Poems demand an enormous surround of silence."
And yet for all its isolation, there's something about writing that is fed by the company of other writers.
When I moved to Virginia a year and a half ago, I left behind a wonderful group of like-minded poets with whom I'd attend readings, workshop poems, and discuss poetry books. The sense of community was so strong and pushed me to stay current with my own writerly pursuits. As everything else fell in to place in our new home—jobs, friends, favorite restaurants—the writing part of me remained unsettled.
So it was with great relief and delight that some friends and I recently created a "Writing Coven"—not a workshop group necessarily, just a regular lunch meeting where we set writing goals for ourselves, then the others hold us accountable for working toward these goals. With regard to writing, guilt seems to be an excellent motivator for me, and this new group has been just what I needed to kick it back into gear.
My first goal was to write a new poem.
It had been far too long since I had completed a poem—only bits and pieces made it to the page. For me, the first step in this process was to read more poetry. Reading poetry gets me into the "poetry headspace" and makes me start thinking poetically, seeing poems in my daily life, and pulling phrases and lines out of nowhere. Luckily, there's no shortage of excellent poetry out there. In addition to the pile of poetry books on my nightstand, I dove into the treasures on Poetry Daily, and back issues of Ruminate.
A couple of weeks ago, the Coven and I went to a reading by Jane Hirshfield. I had the beginnings of a new poem knocking around in my head, and was eager for the sense of a larger writing community that readings offered.
She was wonderful. Her poems floated over the podium, past other great poets in attendance (including Rita Dove and Paul Guest), and dislodged something in me. I took notes frequently as ideas sprang forth from her various phrases, titles, or preambles.
Afterward, I waited in line to have her sign my book, and approached wide-eyed and suddenly shy. I told her how much I loved her reading and how several of us were trying to get back into a consistent writing groove, and that her reading was a wonderful push for us in that direction.
She thanked me graciously, and said that all writers need such "nourishment."
She said that she is likewise nourished by other poets, and that we feed and sustain each other. That night when I got home I finally wrote out the poem that had been circling the page for a week, and now I have several more ideas for poems to come. Her comment has spurred me to seek out further nourishment through local readings and gatherings. I even read a poem at an open reading last night and was reminded of the thrill in the pauses and the rushing of words when read aloud. How line breaks can halt the eye and how that translates into meaning. How naked and exhilarating and, yes, nourishing, it is to share your work with others.
What nourishes you as a writer? What sustains you and feeds your creativity? For me, I think, it has to be a community of writers, of which Ruminate and its readers and contributors are certainly a part.
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