Literary Hook: February offers lots to choose from

Last week, we looked at some forthcoming events at Barnes and Noble, under the expert direction of Sherry Zabikow. This week, we’ll look at more events taking place the second half of February.

Sunday, Feb. 19, 1 p.m., the Rockford Writers’ Guild will host their meeting, which features Dan McGuire giving advice to writers; an hour later, at 2 p.m., Sharon Whitlock will discuss and sign her new novel, The Scheherazade Curse: Featuring the Novice Jazzicals Synchronized Skating Team; Friday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m., hear Dr. Ron and Carol Burmeister with Vegetarians In Motion. In addition, there are several children’s programs. Lots to choose from this February!

The Poetry Center of Chicago was also mentioned in last week’s column. This week, let’s take a closer look. March 15, 6:30 p.m., the Poetry Center of Chicago will feature U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser reading from his work, $10. For serious poets who want to work with the Poet Laureate, a workshop will be March 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m., cost $95. The events are held at 37 S. Wabash Ave., (312) 988-1229.

You may be wondering what a poetry workshop consists of. Generally, it is a small group of poets who would like comments and suggestions on their work. Usually, there is a leader, who has “been around the block” in the poetry world. It’s important that the leader has a breadth and depth of knowledge, not only about the canon of poetry past, but also about poetry’s current “state of the art.” It’s not enough for a poet to have strictly academic training and be “well versed” in poetic terms; the poet must also have an enthusiasm for the sound and reading of poetry.

If you want to set up your own poetry workshop, be sure your protocols are clear from the beginning. For example, it’s best that when a piece is being critiqued that the poet remain silent and simply take in the options, without defense. By the same token, it is important that group members give praise and constructive criticism together. As a writer, it is disturbing to me when people ask me to comment on their work with questions such as, “Do I have what it takes? Do I have talent?” Those are not the questions of critique and workshop. In fact, no one can answer those questions.

Many small writing groups exist today in the United States. The most successful ones are respectful and disciplined. Just as a writer who is disciplined—that is, a writer who WRITES—is most likely to gain success eventually, so, too, the workshop that operates on the principles of discipline and respect. Writing is fun, for sure, but the nuts and bolts of revision and publication call for a cast-iron determination and perseverance. Sounds like a topic for next week…

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the Feb. 15-21, 2006, issue

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