The right word or idea at the right time is a gift. It can take you from where you are, flailing in the mud and set you back on your path. Or perhaps on another one nearby. Or turn you around completely. Whatever it does, it gets you out of your rut and moving again. At least that's how I feel after attending the incredible Poetry Retreat with Pádraig Ó Tuama the other weekend.
Pádraig has such a love for poetry as is evident in his Poetry Unbound podcasts which have over a million listeners! But it was being in the room with him and hearing him recite lines he had learnt by heart that really hit home. His love of language and skill with words infected me with a new enthusiasm for poetry.
I've spent the last few years doing as many poetry and writing workshops as humanly possible with Australian and overseas organisations including Writers Victoria, Writing NSW Queensland Poetry, Poetry School, Coursera and Masterclass. These classes have been in person, online or on demand. All my 'pocket money' and spare change has been spent on improving my skills, discovering all the things I didn't know and learning from some amazing poets and authors including (in no particular order): Joelle Taylor, Mark Tredinnick, Sara M Saleh, Eve Grubin, Mark Smith, Caitlin MacGregor, Vika Mana, Ellen Van Neeren, Benjamin Dodds, Holly Isemonger, Therese Catanzairiti, Miriam Tag, Andy Jackson, Nicole Brimmer, Morganics, Timmah Ball, Felicity Plunkett, Lou Garcia Dolnik, Jazz Money, Pip Smith, Billy Collins, Jo Weston, Hannah Luddbrook, Douglas Keanny, Maria Takolander, Rebecca Giggs, Deb Abela, Felicity Castanga, Laura Jean McKay, Peter Hill, Inge Simnpson, Vanessa Kirkpatrick and Lee Koffman.
(A side note - if you're wondering how I find the time to do all these classes it's because I don't watch television except for the odd movie here and there and I have an ambivalent relationship with social media. There was also a lockdown and I became a hermit for a while!)
It has been my own personal Master of Creative Writing, specialising in poetry and it has been amazing to learn from these incredible poets. But I recently reached saturation point. And when I look at that long list of names above (which isn't everyone I have studied with in recent times), I can see why. I have written in the company of a lot of incredible people. And I have been diligent in keeping an open mind, meeting the prompts and doing my homework. But... you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?
But I could feel something shifting when the last Writers Victoria program for the first half of this year hit my letterbox. Dear reader, I didn't open it. I haven't opened it. It is still sitting there, unread. Or maybe I've thrown it out. I don't actually know where it is. A year ago, I would have devoured it, circling all the workshops I wanted to attend and then figuring out how many I could afford and then choosing the ones I wanted to do and then working out which ones fit in with the rest of my life. But this time was different. It felt like being in workshops wasn't something I wanted to do anymore (except for Amanda and Dave's Poetry As memoir and ... there's always an exception of course!)
And then on the weekend, hearing Pádraig recite Emily Dickinson or read a selection from his forthcoming book Kitchen Hymns (2024), I realised that what I want to do now is spend a few years reading poetry. Devouring it. Buying books from poets and reading them. Borrowing poetry collections form the library or browsing my own shelves to discover hidden gems. Contemporary and classic, I want to read them all!
I'm going to start with this book which Pádraig was kind enough to give each of us a copy. Tell me, what poems are you reading? Which poets set your mind on fire?