Learning the A,B, Sees of poetry

2011-10-02T20:01:00Z Learning the A,B, Sees of poetryMike Ferguson Muscatine Journal
October 02, 2011 8:01 pm  • 

-- Visiting poet tells budding local writers to see their world, and then create one

of their own through poetry

MUSCATINE, Iowa — There are only two questions a poet must answer, Fredrick Woodard told the Writers on the Avenue group Saturday during a workshop:

What do you see? And what do you care about what you see?

Answer those questions and the only task that remains for the poet is to find a voice  and “give the poem movement, stamina and meaning,” said Woodard of Iowa City, a retired University of Iowa professor, poet and visual artist.

“The poet sees the world objectively, and is fully aware of all its subjective elements — with all its variables,” he said. “Call on that voice inside you that’s been guiding you so far, because that voice is music to you. That’s poetry.”

Woodard read a draft portion of a poem he’s working on, “Making You Mexican,” then invited other poets in attendance to share their work.

One, Pat Bieber of Muscatine, read her poem, “Reminders,” which includes these words:

Reminders surround us

A gingko leaf spread green-gold on the sidewalk

the fan that cooled us in summer’s heat

A bedroom stripped of computer, television, boyhood posters

a young man goes to college

Last night’s rain drip dribbles through torn maple leaves

tree-filtered sunbeams streak downward as two beams of light shine upwards against a night sky.

That last line, she said, is an image that honors the memory of those killed during the 9/11 attacks. Bieber wrote the poem on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

As local poets read their work, Woodard offered them tips to make their presentation stronger.

“Your poem has a voice,” he told Kim Dickens, who organized Saturday’s workshop. “Catch the tone and the rhythm of that voice as you speak the poem. You’ve got to be your own best metronome,” he said, tapping his foot on the floor for emphasis.

William Shakespeare knew that responsibility well, he said: a beauty of iambic pentameter is that, read correctly, it beats in time with the human heart.

Toward the end of his presentation, Woodard said he wondered “what would happen in this community if we devoted one week to the international landscape that’s in Muscatine.”

“Ask (the business community) to make a fund available to design a festival to celebrate humanity by learning more about who’s in the community,” he suggested. “Who are you, Muscatine? Take it upon yourselves to define and describe yourselves.

“What’s Muscatine’s song? What gives it the gumption to strut its stuff? Get out there and lead that parade,” he told the poets. “Get on your horse, even if the horse is only a Shetland pony.

“The idea,” he said, “is to awaken us to what we are: the voice that informs.”

But don’t do it halfway, he warned.

“If you’re half-stepping in the parade, you’ll get walked on,” he said.

No matter how experienced they are, poets have to continually revise their work until they get it right, he said. The poem that he read Saturday is a work in progress.

“Even I don’t understand yet what I’m trying to work out,” he said. “Don’t think your voice is achieved in one draft. Drafts,” he said with a smile, “are pretty darn drafty.”

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