Painters to Poets

In July 2002, seven of us were fortunate enough to have a workshop at a private home in Tucson taught by the poet, Gina Franco. She teaches poetry writing, 18th & 19th-century British literature, Gothic literature, poetry translation, Borderland writing, religion and literature, and literary theory at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She was awarded the Philip Green Wright-Lombard Prize for distinguished teaching. She earned degrees from Smith College and Cornell University.

I recently pulled out my files of classes and workshops and thumbed back to 2002. (My writers’ group jokingly refers to me as ‘the historian’ of our writing life.) I read through my notes from this workshop. I also tend to scribble notes not relative to the topic at hand or draw sketches of other classmates if I get bored, but in this file, there were none of those side tracks.

The content was a very intense route of the historians up through the modernists and how these poets were influenced by St. Augustine’s confessions, and how others used it to fit or create a new style of poetry. Post-WWII, many moved into abstraction vs. concrete, wanting to get away from the ‘feeling’, the deep-down confessional and traditional way of expression. Long story short—loose, individual culture, voice, and finding that individual voice on the page came about. Gina then compared short story writing to poetry, using omniscient, an exaggerated first person as in ‘I”, reactionary, stream of consciousness, arbitrary, conflict, and many more.

Alas, during this workshop, my head ached at the end of each meeting. In some of the discussions, I was crystal clear on structure, enjambed, stress syllables, expository, juxtaposition, and other times, my brain crinkled up like a small paper bag, and I down shifted to neutral to coast to the next refreshment break. I did not even have the energy to doodle.

At the end of the workshop, that last night, I was far too overstimulated, at the same time, far too exhausted I could barely drive home. One thing stuck, what the expressionists were doing with paints, the poets wanted to do with words. Images by painters were coveted by poets. As an artist, I got this transition. 

Poetry as I know it is an elegant dance. Strokes and splashes make meaning from memory and makes meaning from objects, and art into words. Like brushstrokes in a painting, words can transform onto a page to create a multidimensional world. With words, a poet can create crisp images and evocative descriptions that capture sensory perceptions in the ‘mind’s’ eye.

The few workshops I have taken on poetry have always drawn something out of me. On the last evening, I was thrilled when Gina gave us another prose poem to study, then pick five words that resonated with you personally, and write.

The birch sways with an imbalance

and I worship with a prayer of wild violets.

The darkness rises above my head

and the trunk of the birch splits dark red.

Rising is unreachable, filling my eyes

with evening rain, and peace wanders in

like a garden.

Give poetry another look.