Fall poetry workshop offers new opportunity for writers



Writers looking for some post-season fun may be able to find it with the Chautauqua Writers’ Center Fall Poetry Workshop.

This is the first time the Writers’ Center has sponsored a fall workshop. Poet Neil Shepard will lead the program, and will last from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. There are 12 spots available to prospective participants.

Shepard has a long history with the Writers’ Center. He’s taught there multiple times, leading both regular workshops and advanced poetry workshops, which he said has introduced him to a “whole range” of different writers.

Clara Silverstein, program director of the Writers’ Center, contacted him when scheduling was being finalized. Shepard was honored when she asked him to lead it, he said.

One of the benefits of the workshop taking place in the fall is that the regular season’s programming is finished, Shepard said. This gives the writers a chance to focus “more intensely” on their writing community and their own craft. All the students will be housed in the Athenaeum Hotel, which excites Shepard.

“That also creates a sense of community that isn’t available during the summer,” Shepard said.

Shepard hopes that having everybody under one “very big roof” will help them keep their focus on literature and their interactions with one another, making it more like a writing colony. Having people be focused solely on writing and surrounded by others doing the same thing can be extremely beneficial, he said.

Another bonus will be the weather: Since the workshop starts in September, Shepard said he expects Chautauqua to be a somewhat cooler than it is in the summer.

“It’ll be a wonderful time of year to be there,” Shepard said.

Shepard’s workshop is called “Vision and Revision: Seeing Into the Heart of the Poem.” He said it was partially inspired by William Butler Yeats, who wrote of seeing into “the deep heart’s core” in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Shepard and his students will develop their poetry by breaking this idea into a two-step process.

The first will be looking at vision, which Shepard said involves feeling, sentiment, thought and imagery. All of these elements can combine to become the first draft of a poem. Their second step will be revision, which Shepard views as a way of actually “re-seeing.” This involves not just cosmetic alterations of the poem, but looking at it in a deeper way in order to improve it, he said.

“I do think that we try to get to a place that’s important to us and that’s full of sustenance,” Shepard said. “Otherwise, why write the poem and why think about trying to share it with readers?”

Shepard said the exercises he and his students do together will help them access the material that’s important to write about. Together, they will shape it in a way to make it more accessible to their readers — harnessing the “magical elements” that make poetry such a special art form.

The workshop will meet for two hours each day, with the first hour focusing on craft and the second concentrating on each participant’s poetry. Shepard will also conduct individual sessions with each student.

Shepard said he’s excited for the students because they’ll have an opportunity to refine their existing work and generate new poetry. He also hopes they’ll come away with a “renewed delight for poetry.”

“I hope that it’ll be convivial and that we’ll have serious fun,” Shepard said.

Students can register for the Fall Poetry Workshop at fallworkshop.ciweb.org or by contacting Group Sales at 716-357-6262.