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Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month: Writing Groups, Part 2

When I first joined the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective in the Fall of 2011, it was with the intention of improving my skills as a short story writer. But several of the members of the group were primarily poets. I had actually first encountered the group at one of their Open Mic nights, which immediately followed an event I was participating in at the Vintage Theater, and most of what I heard that night was poetry.

I presented one of my stories at that first meeting, and it was critiqued and discussed, with suggestions for improvement being made by several of the members. But then someone else presented some poetry. How, I wondered, could the group critique a poem? A poem, to me, consisted of a coherent whole, and it seemed that any suggestion from an outsider to change this or tweak that might cause the entire poem to unravel.

Several members of the group presented suggestions: consider changing this image , this is distracting, this is redundant, this is irrelevant to the image being presented; consider switching these lines around, move this bit to here, and try it again, see how it flows.

The poet re-read the piece, incorporating the changes. It worked. The poem was greatly improved.

Writing groups can be a mixed bag. If established writers can share their experience and knowledge with aspiring writers, that's a wonderful thing. But it doesn't always work like that. Writers can be capricious and other-than-altruistic, jut like anyone else Sometimes the advice given is to the detriment of the work. Sometimes the advice given basically removes the voice of the poet from the poem, and replaces it with the voice of the person offering the advice. At those times it is important for the poet to have the strength and confidence to reject the advice being given. If nothing else, a writing group can give its members experience in deciding when to accept advice and when to dismiss it.

On top of that a writing group allows every member to be exposed to many different poets and writers and their work. This exposure is extremely valuable, as is the network of relationships formed with other poets and writers, relationships which may long outlast the writing group itself.

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