Monday, May 26, 2014

Cape Cod Writers Center Conference 2014

One of the great opportunities for local writers is a chance to take courses at the annual Cape Cod Writers Center Conference each August. Once situated at the picturesque Craigville Retreat Center, the conference now takes place at the Resort and Conference Center in Hyannis. In the past, I have studied with poets William Wenthe, Donald Baker and Gail Mazur, as well as taking a young adult writing seminar with Jacqueline Kolosov. Each class taught gave me fresh insights on the writing process, as well as inspiring me to try new writing techniques.

This summer the theme of the conference is “Powerful Storytelling Today.” The classes encompass many genres of writing, including fiction, memoir, screenwriting, and, of course, poetry.  For poets, there are several intriguing options. Acclaimed poet Kathleen Spivack will lead a class in Developing your Poetry Manuscript. This three-day course offers  “personalized attention to developing your poetry manuscript.” Local poet Gregory Hischak will offer a two-day class entitled “Imagery in Poetry and Prose.”  He writes that this class will “explore the devices and techniques that can help you create and apply vivid imagery and how to let imagery enhance and propel your narrative along.”

Other classes that might appeal to poets include “Insider’s Guide to Getting Published” with Michael and Patricia Snell, “Social Media and Blogging” with Nina Amir (she will also be teaching a class called “Blog a Successful Book”), and “The Writer’s Voice” with Chris Roerden.  Local poet John Bonanni will lead the poetry workshop for young writers.

The 52nd Cape Cod Writers Center Conference will take place August 7-10, 2014. Keynote speakers this summer are Alicia Anstead, an award-winning arts and culture reporter, editor, consultant, and educator and Rishi Reddi, the author of  Karma and Other Stories, published by Ecco/Harper-Collins and winner of the 2008 PEN New England/L.L. Winship prize for fiction. The Keynote Presentation will be on Saturday, 6:15 p.m. in the Cape Cod Room.

There will be agents available and manuscript evaluation/mentoring. For more information and to register online, visit A limited number of scholarships are available. Among them is the Kevin V. Symmons Scholarship for Second Career Writers. You may submit a letter by June 28 stating financial need, a ten-page writing sample and a registration form indicating your suggested courses.

This conference offers the opportunity to meet fellow writers, take informative workshops and get help with manuscript development. There is also a conference bookstore which sells books by faculty and Cape Cod Writers Center writers. On Friday, Aug. 8, there will be a poetry reading from 8:30 – 10 p.m. If you have some free time this summer, I highly recommend this conference as a way to jumpstart your writing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Revisiting Revision

Whenever I start a new poem, I’m in the moment, happy to be putting fresh ideas on paper. However, after that first feverish outpouring, I put the poem away to look at later. Sometimes a poem is complete, but often it needs more work. This is where the hard task of revision comes in.

When I cover revising in my English classes, I have my students notice that the root of the word is “vision” or to see; therefore, revision means to take a second look. I ask them to revisit their original drafts with fresh eyes. In like fashion, poets often need to revisit their creations.

I will often wait weeks, even months to revise my poems. Sometimes I’m in the middle of my busy family/work life and don’t have the quiet time to work with older poems. Sometimes I think a poem is finished until I go back for a second look. Other times, I take a new poem to workshop and have fellow poets critique my work.

At present, I have five to ten manila folders with workshopped poems with notes and suggestions from my peers. My goal this summer is to work through each poem and make revisions as I go along. Some changes will be minor: take out unnecessary words or articles, change the order of stanzas or take out lines that don’t work. In some cases, I may do more extensive revisions so I’m really creating a new poem.

As an example, I brought a poem entitled “Floral Brigade” to workshop recently and had a varied response. Last summer the flowers were so brilliant and prolific, that they were an assault on my senses, so I used war imagery to introduce my subject. In the first stanza, many readers objected to this line: (hydrangeas) “miniature bombs waiting to go off.” Since this poem was written shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, readers didn’t like the reference to bombing here. In my revision, I will take out that line. By taking out this one line, I will then use three line stanzas rather than four line stanzas.

Revision can have a cascading effect. Change one thing and I’m forced to change a host of other things. In the second stanza, I wrote: “Summer’s riches pile up, spill over,/as if we could keep the plunder,/have it last through winter.” In order to minimize the war imagery, I might rewrite it this way: “Summer’s treasures pile up, spill over,/ as if we could keep these riches/ have them last through winter.”

Many poets didn’t like my last two lines: “The long siege has begun --/Another day flowers and expands.” If I take their advice, I might end my poem with “I want to grab the elegant lilies,/find a tower and spill them/over the edge, watch them drift/down, to land on some unsuspecting head, a bombardment from the universe.”

So, this poem is a work-in-progress that demands a closer look. I find revision interesting work. It challenges me in unexpected ways. My advice – don’t be afraid to revise. It might make your poem stronger.