Playful Poetry

Last weekend, I offered a writing workshop titled Playful Writing, and it was hosted at the local yoga studio. I had nine students enrolled, and seven attended. I was pleased, and surprised, by the turnout because part of me didn’t expect more than a couple friends to enroll out of support. I’ve always favored the maxim: keep your expectations low so you’re only surprised, and never disappointed. 

I question that maxim, and wonder if saving myself from disappointment is worth never letting myself hope, or build high expectations. Maybe I can find some kind of compromise: keep my expectations medium, so I’ll only be slightly disappointed if it doesn’t work out, and proud of my work when it does? It doesn’t slip off the tongue as easily, but perhaps it leaves more room for hope, for excitement, for belief in myself. 

The writing workshop was a success. While I was nervous and questioning my choices the day before, calling myself a fraud, asking myself why I ever thought I was qualified to lead a 2 hour writing workshop (because, you know, my years of teaching writing classes and having a degree in literature don’t mean anything), once my writers arrived and we started, I slipped into my comfort zone and got to do one of the things I love most: encourage others to love words as much as I do. 

The goal of the workshop was to get the writers to play with words, and to realize the flexibility and possibilities inherent in language. In one activity, we read poetry from E.E. Cummings, and then tried to emulate his play with words, especially in his use of spacing to either rush or slow the words. Consider the following poem, from his Songs:

in Just-
spring      when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles      far      and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far      and         wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

          the

                   goat-footed

balloonMan      whistles
far
and

wee

And, because it is one of my favorite poems, consider also the following:

L(a

l(a

le 

af

fa

ll

s)

one

l

iness


After reading his poems, we wrote for 10 minutes, seeing what Cummings’ playfulness would inspire. Some of the writers volunteered to share, and I was so pleased because reading my favorite poets inspires me to see what language can do. I hoped it would do the same for others.

The Playful Writing Workshop was the first in what I hope will be many more teaching experiences outside of the traditional classroom. Teaching is the one thing over the past few years that was a constant for me, one thing I enjoyed and that gave me direction. At my deepest stages of burnout, I found myself no longer caring even about that, and knew I needed to make a change. 

As I come nearer to leaving my position at the college (just over a month now), I am relieved, invigorated, and hopeful because I have a clear way I’ll be able to work with writers in community. 

I know I’m making the right choice, and I’m eager to see what’s next. 

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