3 Life Lessons I Learned From My Poetry Workshop
I took my poetry workshop course during the first semester of my final year of college, and the second workshop during my last semester. For those consecutive periods, I had to write and share my poetry with classmates I barely knew — and it was a little terrifying.
But the relief I felt from being able to write creatively won out over that inkling of fear. I learned a lot about my voice and style when it came to poetry, and I got to enjoy other great pieces from my peers.
However, the course’s lessons didn’t stop at writing tips and feedback. There were things that I learned that could be applied to my life beyond being a writer. And whether you’re a poet or not, these truths may resonate with you, too.
You will need to be vulnerable and unafraid
A room full of poets isn’t the biggest party, so a lot of my classmates were just as hesitant as I was to share their work when the semester began. The introvert in me shivered every time my turn to recite my poem was approaching. Conflicting feelings rose within me: desperately wanting all attention off of me, yet wanting to receive praise for my talent.
Despite my nerves, I always shared and I sat and listened while my classmates interpreted my poem amongst each other. It’s a vulnerable moment, especially if the poem is a bit intimate (as most poetry is). To openly share a part of yourself is to be brave, in my eyes.
We often have to do this in our everyday lives, as well, don’t we? When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone else, the connection is strengthened, deepened. To take that risk and show yourself is a form of bravery that many of us don’t acknowledge.
Like poetry, this form of expression is quieter and intimate. But it means so much more for a relationship (platonic, familial, romantic, etc.) than surface level niceties. When you share a softer, untouched side of yourself to the people in your life, you are setting yourself for possible critique — much like the critique that can come from a workshop setting. But the possibility of acceptance, celebration, and unconditional love is also present.
You may also feel those conflicting feelings of fear and curiosity brewing within you when you open up to someone. But please, stay — see what could happen — and be unafraid.
Not everyone will “get you”
If you’re someone who craves deep connections and understanding, then this one might be a hard pill to swallow. It sure is for me. But that’s the truth, not everyone will understand you and what you’re trying to say. It can be even more complicated when you’re a poet and complete thoughts only manifest in cryptic lines and stanzas.
Sure, it can feel lonely when it seems that no one will ever get you or your art or whatever…but only if you allow yourself to wallow in that feeling.
I remember getting a little frustrated when my classmates were interpreting my poems “wrong” or not reacting the way I imagined once I did explain it to them. I thought I had done something wrong, that I wasn’t a great enough poet because not enough people understood what I wrote. But that’s simply not true.
Same goes for other parts of our lives. There are going to be more people who don’t get you than people who do. But does that matter if you get you? What I mean is, as long as you understand where you’re coming from, what you’re thinking, how important is it for everyone else to share that exact understanding?
Sometimes you just have to have your own back, build yourself up, sing praises in the mirror. This doesn’t mean you should close yourself off completely to others, oh no. But forgive them for not understanding perfectly. Take their interpretations for what they are and move on. And maybe hold off on that sad poem about being misunderstood.
Kind words benefit the recipient and the giver
As a rule, the poetry workshop was to be a space free of cruelty and bullying. If you didn’t have anything nice to say, it was best to stay quiet. Thankfully, there weren’t any sour situations like that. There was only praise, curiosity, or suggestions about points of revision. Many of the first comments after someone read their poem started with a, “I really liked…” And the rest of the group followed suit, tossing compliments onto the poet like confetti.
Of course it felt great to hear real-time rave reviews of your poem. But I noticed that it also felt nice for me when I gave a fellow poet some praise. Knowing that my kind words would possibly ease their nerves and boost their confidence made me genuinely happy.
This might sound cliché but it’s true: you really do feel better giving than receiving. It creates this soft bubble of sweet words and bashful smiles. That’s the kind of energy you want around you, especially when opening yourself up to the words of others.
That was probably the moment I looked forward to the most, even more than hearing other people’s poems. If we’re lucky, we’ll all find people with whom we can share this feeling. Warm hearts all around!
Creative writing workshops of any kind can be extremely beneficial to your development as a writer. But more than that, it can help you grow as a human being. You and your peers are sharing your art, being brave.
Any opportunity we get to push ourselves a little more, is a chance at expansion. If one of those opportunities is a poetry workshop, then why not try it? You’ll definitely get more than a few good poems out of it.