Discovering the Relevance of Words
For the last week, I have been teaching a teen poetry workshop called Your Word at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL. If you think teenage poetry plus Florida-in-July equals hell, you’d only be half right, because these kids are amazing! And I guess that makes sense, this being a self-selected group; you have to really love writing poetry already to want to spend two weeks doing it in Florida in the middle of summer.
Still, these young writers are better poets, on average, then all but the most brilliant mavericks you might find in an AP English class. Which also makes sense; these aren’t the kids who necessarily can write the best essays on Hawthorne’s use of light in The Scarlet Letter, but ask them to describe themselves in metaphor, and you are more likely to get “I am an old brass key on a leather string,” than “I am a flower.”
Beginning writers tend to think that they should use all the skills they have to disguise or transcend the mundane and specific details of their own lives. Fearing that no one will care about the actual torments of their lives so far, they usually choose to write about their struggles in general rather than risk celebrating the ragtag gaggle of minor characters who play starring roles in their memories. The most important first lesson any writing teacher can teach you is that the life you have already lived can be the stuff of great writing all by itself.