Wednesday, May 28, 2014

poets with a press pass

One of my favorite panels at the writer's conference I attended a few months back was one I hadn't planned on going to. (I learned that you can pick your choices ahead of time, but these kinds of conferences - perhaps not unlike shopping at a farmer's market - are best savored by testing and tasting and choosing by feel as you go.) Earlier in the day I'd heard a journalist-turned-social worker, who moonlights (is that what she would call it?) as a poet read some of her work and talk about her life. I was immediately drawn to her because she seemed so earthy, so real, and because we seemed to have some things in common.  She read a poem about homeless kids who live under the Atlantic City boardwalk, and I was blown away by how she'd captured their voices, their aches, their strengths in what she wrote. When she read her poetry, I felt and wanted to act, which is probably what the best writing does to us. At the end, she mentioned that later on in the day, she and a few other poets would be presenting a panel called Poets with a Press Pass. They were all former journalists who now wrote poetry.

I had never intentionally thought about the intersection of these two kinds of writing, but I knew I wanted to hear more of what she had to say (and write). When I got there, I sat close to the front. Three rather homely, middle-aged people sat at the table at the front, their books in front of them. When they introduced themselves, they each explained their journalism background, then read from some of their poetry. The first thing I wrote in my notes from this panel was "look up these authors!" It should also be noted that only in this and one other panel did I sheepishly approach the authors to talk with them and tell them how much I enjoyed their writing and insight.

Here is some of how they explained the connection between journalism and poetry:
  • inspiration, precision, connections, curiosity, empathy, honesty
  • know there is a poem in something just as you know there is a story in something
  • precision - in journalism, related to accuracy; in poetry, related to meaning

Here are some (important) differences I'm thinking of right now:
  • News can be skimmed to get the gist, poetry needs to be read slowly to get the feel
  • News is old after a few hours, whereas poetry is essentially timeless, and each new reading gives you something new
  •  consumption vs. being gutted open

The poets on the panel were Tina Kelley, Susan Cohen and (I can't find his name! but he was good). Go look up these authors!

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