Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Creativity Groups and Do It Yourself Retreats

Over at her blog, Kelli writes about her do-it-yourself writers' retreat that she had with her local creative friends and she offers great ideas--you, too, could have a writer's retreat with your friends this very week-end. No need to wait until you get accepted into an MFA program. No need to win that coveted spot in a nationally known retreat center.

I've often had writers' groups as part of my life, but as I read Kelli's post, I realized with a bit of shock that we haven't actually written together. Even during retreats where we wrote, we usually retired to our separate rooms to write. The majority of writers' groups of which I've been a part have been the workshop kind, where we arrive with our work written and looking for feedback or praise.

I found this exercise that Kelli describes intriguing:

"We also did 2 exercises where we would write and someone would say a word from a list of words we had created from books of poems. J & I each chose 5 words each from our chosen book of poems and R & A chose 5 words each from their chosen book of poems.

We put these words in a bowl then started with a phrase, our was something like "...years above the dizzying bridge..." from a Madeline DeFrees poem. We would freewrite then every 30-90 seconds, one person would draw a word from the bowl and we'd have to incorporate it into our poem. This makes you add things into your work that you might not add and stretches your brain. It's very hard to write the cliche poem if you're writing about flying and someone gives you the word "marsupial." It takes your poem to surprising places. (This is our group's favorite exercise at the moment.)"

I like the idea that they use books of poems. I like the idea of surprising additions.

I wonder if I could use this idea with my students. I've now moved most of my volumes of poetry to my office. If I used this idea, it would give my students a reason to touch the books and go through them. They are often so shocked to realize that poems exist in a book-length volume. I was too. For so many years, poems were what you read in anthologies.

Speaking of anthologies, one of the highlights of my yesterday was the chance to read my friend's short story that has just been published in an anthology of Asian American female writers (I hope I have that right). It was a beautiful story. I suspected it would be, but I've only read my friend's poetry. Her poetry takes my breath away, so I wasn't surprised to find that she's very skillful with narrative too.

I'm happy to have these kind of friends, ones with whom we can share our publishing victories. But reading Kelli's post made me realize how few creative communities I have now, groups that actually create together. I miss my old writing groups--well, the ones that worked I miss. The dysfunctional ones can go away. I miss my friends who gamely experimented with the creativity circles that I pulled together as I read Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold. I miss the quilting group that I had a few years ago, the one that met fairly faithfully once a month.

Let me think some more about this. Let me send out my wishes to the universe and see what echoes back.

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