Over the next month I invite you to join me at Poetry School. I will not be the teacher, but merely the messenger, a fellow student. Though the balance may one day shift, for me writing poetry is about nine tenths incubation, one tenth hatching. For long stretches of time my writing practice can be less about looking down at my own words and more about looking up. Where am I in my idealized poetry landscape? Where do I want to be? For the most part, I look to other poems for perspective—manifestations of both what I admire and what I find perplexing (in a good way or not). I also look regularly to interviews with and essays by poets for the lessons I crave. Poetry is my ongoing education.
In 2016 I swallowed self-doubt and offered to facilitate a poetry colloquium in Ottawa where I live, an eight-week, seminar-style program “aimed at writers wishing to explore topics in poetry as a means of developing their own work.” We would discuss poetry, but not our own poems. The project was entirely self-serving in its inception. I knew that the best way to learn about poetry myself would be by engaging in conversation with others around poems and related texts. Of course I hoped the participants would experience the same benefits.
The model for my colloquium came from a residency I had done at Sage Hill in Saskatchewan a couple of years earlier. For two weeks, I and seven other poets had worked on our own projects while benefitting from the mentorship of poet, philosopher, and master teacher Jan Zwicky. It was a productive and rejuvenating time-out-of-time for all of us. My own colloquium was a way for me to try to recast that spell in my life.
Recently, I put out a call on Facebook asking for recommendations of essays (interviews, treatises, introductions, etc.) on poetry. These could be from any tradition, I said, but I was most interested in writings that had stood the test of time (centuries, or at least several decades). Also, I wanted to know about essays by poets, not critics. For example, we talk of lyrical poetry, so why not read, or reread, Wordsworth's “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads? It’s been thirty years since I last laid eyes on that text!
Thanks to the hive-mind, I now have a reading list for the next several years. Over the next month, I’ll dig into the fifty-plus recommendations I received and share morsels of seven here. Maybe you will know the texts well already, or maybe they will be on your own reading list. There will be no system or overarching theme or agenda to my selections. I will simply jab my fork into the poetry cake, aiming at the Smarties that catch my eye (and that I can readily access, either on my bookshelf, online, or in my local public and university libraries). My posts will be full of curiosity, and not scholarly. I stand to learn the most by attending this Poetry School, though I hope you will find it edifying also. See you in a few days.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Deanna Young’s previous books include House Dreams, nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award and the ReLit Award, and Drunkard’s Path. Young grew up in southwestern Ontario during the 1970s and ’80s. Reunion, her fourth collection, belongs to that place and time. She now lives in Ottawa, where she works as an editor and teaches poetry privately.