Thursday, February 28, 2008

Writing Tips: Organize a poetry workshop

Tips for generating interest and topic ideas for conducting poet workshops. Ideas on exercises and reasonable goals.

Those of us who enjoy poetry often find reading and study venues quite scarce. This is especially true in small towns and rural areas. If you are planning to hold a poetry workshop, here are a few tips that can help you get organized and get the most from your efforts.

You should start by determining the interest for a workshop in your area. Placing an ad in the lifestyles section or classifieds of your local paper is a good way to advertise the workshop, but be sure to state that you are currently collecting information to determine if there is enough interest to warrant the workshop. As few as four or five people can make for a productive workshop, but you should decide in advance what your set minimum participation will be.

Another very effective means of advertising is to create flyers and post them at the local library, bookstores and schools. These are best done with some type of desktop software, but if that isn't possible handwritten announcements will suffice.

Check with the local high school to find out if they are willing to post announcements for you. Some schools will permit language instructors to make an announcement for you to their students. When approaching schools, be prepared to answer all their questions concerning what the objectives of the workshop will be, along with meeting times, location, and any fees or materials needed for the workshop.

Public libraries are generally very accommodating to literary projects. Check with their activities director to find out if a meeting room can be arranged with the library, as well as to establish a convenient day and time for the sessions. Often, they will help market the workshop by announcing it in their bulletins or newsletters and posting an announcement in the library.

Your workshop objectives should be clearly defined before your first meeting. If developing writing skills and the study of elements within poetry is the focus, give everyone who attends an outline of upcoming topics. On the other hand, if your workshop is more focused on reading and discussion of poetry, it may be beneficial to outline your sessions as you go along. This allows those who attend to give input, offering a wider variety of material.

Ideas for topics can be gathered from poetry writing books that go into detail on poetic tools, styles, forms and other elements. Also, find web sites of other workshops and gather ideas from their syllabus. It is a good idea to select one quality poetry writing book and one book of poems to be used from time to time, so that all participants can read and study on their own time. Certainly other materials can also be used, but having standardized books for everyone will help keep things moving along in an organized fashion.

Workshops can benefit greatly from guest speakers or video productions. For example, if you arrange for an experienced poet from a nearby university to speak, this will draw local interest. Such an event should be well advertised to gain the most local support. If you use a video production, such as a public broadcast production, explain before viewing what you believe to be essential about the presentation. After the viewing, open the room to collective discussion. This type of group brainstorming can trigger very interesting questions about the elements of poetry.

Workshops can range from a few weeks in duration, to ongoing weekly sessions. Much depends on your objectives, which may (and probably should) be altered somewhat after participants offer input on their expectations of the workshop. While a poetry workshop works best when there is someone at the helm leading the discussions and arranging topics, as it progresses the workshop should naturally become more of a cooperative effort. When that happens, everyone involved feels more of a vested interest and the overall group reaps the benefits of required enthusiasm.

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