Friday, January 21, 2011

Personal Retreat, Post 2

In my last post, I talked about how I would be accompanying my husband on a trip to Denver. He had business there for three days; I intended to spend most of those days immersed in poetry.

I did go to Denver; I did study poetry and even wrote some; I did eat lots of dark chocolate; I did have a nice break from my usual routine.

It wasn't the total poetry immersion I had imagined, though. A client sent some editing and pages to proof the night before we left. So instead of going to bed early and sleeping late as planned so that I would be well rested, I was to bed late and up early. Even so, we left for the airport late because we waited to make sure all the pages went through the fax machine. To make matters worse, that evening when we got to Denver, several emails from my client awaited me. The last several pages of my fax had arrived blank. I had to have her send me the file in Denver, then search out a printer, get up early to redo the work, and have the hotel fax the pages back to her.

As a result, I lost several hours I had planned to devote to poetry—partly because of the time I spent on the unexpected editing and partly because sleep deprivation led to my falling asleep repeatedly while studying. So much for a weekend free of distractions and interruptions.

That aside, I count the retreat a success. I started with Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry, which explained the basics of poetry simply and in just over 100 pages. As I read, I realized I had learned much of the information in high school but had forgotten it, so this book was a good refresher.

Next I started The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry. (Yes, that Stephen Fry, the British actor who was so great as butler Jeeves in the PBS series "Jeeves and Wooster.") What a fun book! Fry infuses every page with his sense of humor, and his instructions are detailed and clear and his exercises fun. Example: Write two lines about pesky tasks overdue in iambic pentameter with enjambment and at least two caesura. Write a poem about cows in dactylic pentameter.

Looking at my notebook now for the first time since Denver, I see most of what I wrote was awful, too awful even to give you an example of how awful it was. But I was—and am—amazed that I could do it at all. I thought expressing ideas in metered feet would be difficult to learn and take a lot of practice before I could do it. But I actually wrote directions to my house in anapestic hexameter on first try! How cool!

The last full day we were in Denver it snowed heavily. We had large windows and a balcony with a great view of the city. It was a treat to watch the snow blow and swirl and pile up in white mounds that stayed white because few people ventured out on the slick streets. We got to experience that absence of sound that only occurs on rare snowy days. The snow ended up the subject of several of my poem exercises.

Next, I need to finish Fry's book and its exercises and work on writing poems that don't suck. That will come with practice, I assume. My husband has another business trip this spring that I'm going along on, and finishing Fry may be a good project to work on then.

Next time I plan a retreat, I'll do things a little differently. I'll tell people that I'll be completely unavailable during my retreat and on the day before. That should allow me to get a good night's sleep beforehand and not waste limited retreat time on naps and work.

I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on February 5. I hope to see you back then.

—Shauna Roberts


Charles Gramlich said...

It always seems when you plan a pure creative day or period that other things intervene. But it sounds like you accomplished much. Glad to hear it.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, ain't that the truth? I was glad I had more than one day scheduled because it meant I still managed to get a lot done.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Even when you give yourself a retreat, life happens.