When I first started writing poetry seriously, I often discarded subject matter too quickly because I felt (incorrectly) that everything I wrote about had to be philosophically meaty or an elevated thought. And while we often do find, after peeling a poem’s layers away, that there are elevated thoughts or philosophical points, we should never discard subject matter simply because it seems base or profane. In fact, many strong poems have been written about or inspired by subject matter that would surprise you. Take, for example, Stephen Dunn’s poem “The Kiss,” which was inspired by the following typo: “She pressed her lips to mind.” What a wonderful epigraph with which to begin a poem! On the other hand, Maxine Kumin found something as smelly and as mundane as horse manure to inspire “The Excrement Poem,” which, after a close reading, shows the beauty and uniqueness of the human experience, right down to our waste.
From July 19 – July 25th, 2015, I will be teaching a course “Anything Goes!” at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Not only will we read Stephen Dunn, Maxine Kumin, Rodney Jones, and Sharon Olds (just to name a few), we will create our own poems, silencing our internal editors as to what can lead us to generating strong poems. In between classes, we will interact with students who are painting, singing, weaving, and blacksmithing, just to name a few of the many crafts that are practiced at the Folk School. If you are new to writing or at the intermediate level, please consider joining me and other folk school students to write in the lovely Appalachians of western North Carolina. I promise that you will generate new work, and that you will also laugh at some point (not to mention eat well!)