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The Best Class I Ever Took

August 3, 2011

We met in the living room of a rented Italian apartment.  The walls were white.  They were rounded at the edges and we traveled under simple archways to pass from room to room.  The floors were tiled.  Maybe a terra-cotta color, but maybe they were white too.  We all sat around the room on couches, old wicker chairs, or pillow cushions.  We sat with journals in hand, journals of our soul-bearing poetry, and let the vulnerability fill the room like a seventh member of our group.  I think my hands may have trembled a bit during that first class.

It was in that room that I learned to hear my own voice as a writer.  Not so much as a poet (although I did improve some), but as a person who relied on words to communicate all the things she wished the world to know.  It was in that room that others’ voices shaped my own.  In that room that I learned to trust, to understand that without a community to help guide me – well, I had nothing.  We all read our poetry out loud.  We all went around the room, one by one, and offered pieces of ourselves up for critique.

We were all pretty rusty poets in the beginning.  We used fancy language and long, rambling verses with no cadence or sense of rhythm.  We thought poetry had to be confusing. We thought it had to bring readers through a mental mind game whose maze had no real beginning and no definitive end.  We thought a lot of things when we first sat down in that white stucco room with the professor with the beard and the Orvieto Spring breeze that lofted its way through the windows.  But we helped each other.  We taught each other.  We pulled out each other’s words and substituted them for stronger ones.  We tapped each other’s syllable counts on the edges of tables, letting our fingers dance and our wrists shake until the featured poet’s line was just right.  We all cried at one point or another.  We laughed a lot too.  We exchanged lines and verses, finished each others dangling rhymes, and assured each other that we were not the worst poets to be born.

Cappuccino breaks happened promptly at 11:00 am.  In the beginning, we returned to our apartment/classroom within the twenty minute allotted time frame, but as the days of the course went on, those twenty minutes seemed to extend themselves.  We would find ourselves meeting on the steps of the duomo (cathedral), or all gathered inside the opening of a small street where tiny buds were blossoming on trees.  We found ourselves in old stone churches, staring up at century-old frescoes with poetry pad in hand – writing.  The class began to happen wherever we were.  The class became whatever we made it become.  Inside that apartment, walking around churches, outside on cobblestone streets, in gardens and cathedrals and beneath laundry that hung high above me on clotheslines – that is where I understood that writing is about noticing.  Writing is about slowing it all down in a way that everyone wants to be able to do, but don’t always know how.  Writing is about learning.  And learning is about experiencing.  It all came together for me in a cliff-top town in the hills of Umbria.

I don’t know what made me think about that today.  Maybe the smell of burning wood or the sight of a crumbling stone chimney or just the simple pleasure of taking out my poetry notebook again.  Maybe it was just a humble memory of the people and the places that have transformed me in ways I am still learning to articulate.  Trying to articulate.  Sometimes the best symbol of gratitude is just to say nothing at all.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 12:20 am

    This is gorgeous – each word, each photo. Thank you. So, so lovely.

  2. August 3, 2011 10:36 am

    Thanks, Diana! I’m always so grateful when you stop by!

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