Doing poetry with Carole Langille

Carole LangilleDoing poetry with Carole Langille is like slipping into honey — warm, viscous, strong, intense, and very,very productive.

This morning, just as the National Arts Festival got going, about 10 of us (among whose company are both published poets and those of us who have finally got up the courage to call ourselves poets) gathered in the St Peter’s building on Rhodes campus to expose ourselves to a poet none of us knew very well, but who’s visiting Grahamstown. Langille didn’t do much talking, but she said a few important things at the beginning: poets make a “scandalous assertion” — “that the private is public, that the local is universal, and that the ephemeral is eternal”. She said there is a maternal silence that is the mother of writing; that to find the material to write, you go to the places where you’re bothered. She also said:

  • Be embarrassed, fail, write again and again.
  • Poetry tells us what we didn’t know we knew.
  • Go deep enough and then they [poems] surprise us.
  • When you’re fallow, use your hands [ie turn to craft].
  • Publishing and writing are very different.
  • Read and read and read, join the community of poets.
  • First drafts are radioactive.
  • First drafts are alive; never throw them away.
  • The poem will tell you, if you keep on asking it.

The extraordinary thing is that she got us all to write almost immediately and to read the writing to each other. In a short time in her company we went deeply into the places we’ve avoided for years and 10 strong, amazing pieces of workable stuff were the result.

She ended the session by reading us “Not in the warm earth“, a poem about her parents and setting us homework: polish the pieces we’d written, send her a poem about our fathers. Deadline: 1 August.

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