For the past week, I’ve been ensconced at Pine Manor’s Winter MFA Solstice residency in Chestnut Hill. I was one of the first alumni to graduate in January, 2009. Thanks to their generous policy of encouraging alumni to audit classes and attend alumni events, I return twice a year for inspiration, learning and collegiality.
Every year, I focus on a particular aspect of craft and writing. In years past, as a memoir and personal essay writer, I’ve selected classes in creative nonfiction. This past year, perhaps because of the swirling events of Trump’s presidency, I have returned to writing poetry. The form, succinct and compressed, forces me to hone in, shape words in a rhythmic form, and highlight the essence of my subject.
I write free verse, using narrative, craft particulars and associations to shape my words. As of late, I have struggled to find the “right” words to fit my subject and fill the page. I’ve begun to wonder: does the possibility of so much free form limit my imagination?
I am grateful to report that midweek, I attended a class taught by Dzvinia Orlowsky on the Villanelle and Pantoum forms. We read and dissected Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song, Theodore Roethke’s The Waking and two more. Villanelle is a form that uses repetition of lines to highlight the poet’s themes and intention.
As an Octogenarian with far more years behind me than ahead, the experience of probing the contrast between Thomas’s “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” and Roethke’s “I learn by going where I have to go” tapped into my own personal dilemma about creative focus and time.
In aging, one can rail and narrow one’s options as Thomas so aptly reveals or in contrast, one can follow one’s instincts or intuition and expand as one lives as Roethke unveils. It was remarkable join my classroom peers, all decades younger, in exploring and articulating the options.
On his recent 91stbirthday, my brother joked, “I’ve never been this old.” There is such truth is that simple statement and with it, the question of how one proceeds facing the “sunset years.” For myself, I am grateful to have returned to poem making in order to try to harness the light, caste the mauves, blues and lavenders of topics that compel me to write.
At the same time, I am grateful to experience validation of the path I am on, the belief that experience is the best teacher— a mantra I followed in all my therapeutic work with others. My choice of poetry classes was intuitive. It now seems significant that Roethke wrote the poem In Waking in 1953, a turning point in my life. I was a junior in college, far from home, emotionally adrift from my family and learning life long lessons I continue to embrace.
In Roethke’s words—“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go.” I am grateful.