An Audience for Poetry

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest in classes taught by a colleague. As a part of her Religion & Literature courses, she assigned my poetry collection, Your Twenty-First Century Prayer Life. I visited both of her sections twice, with the one class session focused on the first half of the book and the other session focused on the second half.

I read many of the poems, shared firsts drafts of a few, and answered numerous questions. (The students read the book and posted discussion questions in advance.) They were also eager to ask questions of me in person.

  • “When did I decide that I wanted to be a writer?”
  • “What was the inspiration behind this [insert title] poem?”
  • “Did you mean this detail to be taken symbolically?”
  • “Which poem in the book means the most to you personally?”

Their questions led me to question aspects of the poems and my writing journey that I hadn’t considered. Because the book has been out for a year, and I’m revising the next one for publication later this year, I’ve gained some distance. As odd it sounds, the book seems “old” to me, the poems from an earlier period in my life.

I shared with them the long process of the book’s genesis, development, revision, and eventual publication. I shared how in the book I was trying to do something I hadn’t yet attempted in my writing: bringing the place-based aspects of my lyric poems together with the spiritual elements of my life. And I shared how I didn’t know if my experiment would work. Would I fail?

The second day I met with the classes, I signed books, and it was a real treat, asking each student his or her name, thanking each student for reading the book. And then I signed my name. I suspect that many students have not met a writer before, and I’d like to think that I was relatively “normal” and approachable. It was an honor to have students read my work, to engage with the poems, and for them to experience my writing as genuine communication, writer to reader.

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