Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Ashland Poetry Workshop

We were twenty-five souls who took arms against windy snow to join the Ashland Poetry Workshop for a weekend this past November 23-24. The schedule comprised four hours of workshop with highly accomplished poets, an open reading for participants, and readings by workshop leaders. Several OPA members were there, Patricia Black, Jennifer Hambrick, Sharon Mooney, Deb Strozier, and Laura Weldon, among them.

The leaders were Deborah Fleming, Steven Haven, and Sarah Wells from Ashland University and Robin Davidson of the University of Houston.

For two hours Saturday morning and two the next, Steven Haven, director of the MFA program at Ashland, led six of us in workshop. He had obviously read the poems carefully, and he encouraged plenty of discussion.

About the other leaders, I heard few, if any, mutters of discontent. A single hitch: one leader, who thought the Saturday workshops would continue after lunch, didn't start to entertain participants' poems until the morning session was nearly over.

We heard plenty of strong poetry in the afternoon. I especially enjoyed hearing finished poems on themes we had heard in the morning's session. However, I strongly recommend a smaller, more intimate room.

Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, each workshop leader read his/her own poetry. I most enjoyed Robin Davidson's translations, written collaboratively with the Polish poet Ewa Lipska; likewise, poems on a year-long absence from her husband. (In "April Storm" she writes, "to feel in the pulse of rain pelting the window/your fingers of weeks, months ago/still tangled in my hair.)

Sarah Wells writes lean meditations on marriage, family, and religion. Much of Deborah Fleming's work is in specific forms--—stanzas alternating between quatrains and couplets, for instance. Of Stephen Haven's poems, I most enjoyed his last, based on a late nineteenth pastoral painting (whose title and painter I forget).

One criticism: too much open time. I suggest a community lunch or dinner. Also, participants might lead our own informal discussions: on drafts we start from prompts set by morning leaders, for instance; or on specific poems by our leaders; or on poems by canonical or experimental poets--what if everyone were to come ready to talk about "Because I could not stop for Death"?

The weekend was free, with a recommended donation of only $20. This was greatly appreciated; I would gladly pay more for a fuller schedule, however.

I think most OPA members would enjoy the Workshop. Could the weekend be even more satisfying? Yes, I believe so.

- Craig McVay, Columbus