POETS & WRITERS IS MORE than a magazine. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving creative writers. We pay fees to writers giving readings and leading workshops, provide information and advice to authors, and help them connect with one another and with audiences. We also sponsor a number of awards and prizes.
The Art of Unconditionality
Writing poetry in a group setting, and for free, is a gift. Poets know this well. But venues and teachers often require that devilish nemesis: money. Thankfully, Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program exists to make such things possible.
I have been fortunate to host and cocreate numerous poetry circles in New Orleans with funding from Poets & Writers. The poetry circles have been small and large, held indoors and outdoors, designed specifically for teens, women, poets of color—or completely inclusive. Among the elements these workshops have in common are freedom and imagination. On a practical level they provide blocks of time away from a writer’s daily responsibilities and make room for writing and literary dreams.
A spirit of unconditionality is another essential ingredient in my writing groups. I enjoy giving anyone a chance, whether a new or accomplished writer, to write without the burden of being judged. A palpable exhalation passes through each new poetry circle when I introduce the concept of unconditionality, what it means to me, and how it works in a poetry circle. People are often so grateful to work within the space it clears. Many of us have been discouraged from writing due to harsh criticism or paltry praise. It is exhilarating to observe writers spread their literary wings without the fear of them being clipped.
A simple group exercise I created—although I doubt I’m the only one who’s thought of it—is called Word Robin. A variation on round-robin, this poetic pastime is all about word association. The first person picks a word or phrase that he or she has a particular feeling about and reads it aloud. The next person chooses a word or phrase that relates to that first word and also says it aloud, and the process continues around the circle. It is a way for the group to get to know one another, as people and as writers. There is no point to the exercise except to be intentional with each word or phrase offered. As one poet commented, “It’s much like writing a poem, and thinking of the next word, with deliberation.” Sometimes a poem does emerge, but that is not the objective, and the liberation of conjuring a word, simply in relation to another’s word or phrase, lends itself to inspiration. It is an easy way to collaborate in a group.
One of the more memorable poetry series with which I’ve been associated, Poems in the Park, was organized in conjunction with the National Park Service in the summer of 2017. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know how hot it can get. But we poets persisted and would meet in sweaty 90-plus-degree weather at Audubon Park, sitting at a picnic table, or under the shelter of a gazebo or an oak tree, as ducks and other birds sauntered by.
Eventually it did get too hot, and by the end of July we ventured inside for air-conditioning and cold drinks at a nearby café. But the experience of being in nature, during a sauna-like season, allowed the writers another kind of freedom. Away from stern, rigid rooms, lizards and leaves were our companions, balmy breezes caressed us, and even annoying mosquitoes provided subject matter. Textural, and full of real interaction, we experienced life sans insulation, and poetry arose from pleasant moments—and uncomfortable ones, too.
Poetry circles satisfy our need for community, and taking slow moments to revel in the ecstasy of creation—away from the competitive world of who is “good” or famous—surrounded by like-minded humans is a joy. Thank you, Poets & Writers!
Delia Tomino Nakayama lives in New Orleans in an orange house with a black-and-white cat. She writes poetry, sings on her bike, teaches English to immigrants, and paints and pastels abstract works of art. She can be reached regarding upcoming poetry circles and other updates at firstname.lastname@example.org.