Cam Scott is Contributing Editor for Cheek Teeth. Learn more about his work here.
It is strange to think that something as personally generative and craft-oriented as writing, might require that the writer belong to a group or movement. Or that poetry, in particular, might require it. But over and over, of all the strange demands I’ve intuited as a writer and poet, the pull to group up, group out, and find community is the strangest. The truth is I don’t really like to write in a group or with a group. A crowded bus ride to work? Sure. The library? Yep. Ye old watering hole? The darker the beer and the darker the hole the better. But with a group of prompt-riffing ruffians? Eh. And I sometimes wonder which is stranger, the fact that I feel this way about writing groups, or the fact that I also feel like I can’t live without them and am a flare-wearing member, i.e. buttons of the pin-on variety, that say things like “Magical Metaphor Tour 08’,” “My Pen is My Sword,” and “Howl Like You Mean It.”
As in, I’ve belonged to no less than four blogging poetry groups, all of which have failed over time. A few email poetry groups, which have begun to dwindle and shrink. Participated in more poetry workshops than I have fingers and toes. Taught poetry workshops. And have even performed in a spoken word group called “Wild Word” and am far from what would be considered a spoken word poet. Seriously. Stomp. Spit. Snap. Spit. Stomp.
I have not yet joined a poetry publishing cooperative, wherein a small group of poets publish each others' books. Nor, due to my own hang-ups and wanting to be accepted, popular, and whirling through the whirly-gig space of published poetry land, will I--which sometimes makes me think, between slamsara-ing through the metaphysical world and getting dumb pounded and dumb founded in the physical world, I will never cough up enough money or get lucky enough to win a poetry contest, and might possibly never end up with a book of published poems. Which in the grand scheme of things is alright. Like your grandma just died and it is alright. A better kind of place alright. The book pie in the sky place. The Bookie-Wookie-Chelsea-Handler crowd isn’t here kind of place. Writing, and in particular writing poetry, is often that thing that pushes me to be a better person. Pay attention. Learn. Get walloped and humbled and hang nailed. And ultimately, over and over again, happy. Because, brace yourself, I’m going to use an illegal writing word: I really love to write.
A couple of years ago, between feeling my job at a literary non-profit slipping through my fingers and wanting desperately to find and create a community of poets in the valley where I live, I started a poetry group. What I needed at the time was to have a group of poets that met weekly to discuss poetry. (Not to be confused with meeting up with a poet buddy once in a while which is, can, and often trumps poetry groups in the first place). The once a month readings in the valley where I live offer a platform for reading but not the opportunity to really get into the guts of poems through analysis. Like Damon (see his recent post on Cheek Teeth, “Poetry, U.S.A.”), I often approach a poem paying attention to line, image, and sound. I want to see what and how a poem is doing what it is doing. I want to steal it. Roll in it. Whatever. I just want more practicing poets in the community where I live who are serious about poetry. For people in my own poetic community to be able to push the poetic envelope. And for a while I had that.
When I left last September and hit the road for Residency Land, I left the group to fare on its own. It has faired well, grown, and turned, for better or for worse, into a group that critiques each others' poems with comments like, “I like that line” or, “What I would do is…” They do more critique, and maybe in the end are more motivated to generate because they aren’t reading as many published poems and they have an audience to read theirs. But the teacher in me cringes. And the student in me, who has spent many a long hour in critique-based workshops listening to egos struggle for praise or to be heard or torn down, cringes, too. Now, strange as it is to say, I don’t know if the workshop group I started is right for me. And that is ok, too. Maybe it is time for the cell to split and keep growing. Double down. Divide and conquer. Who knows. The thing that I love even more than line, image, and sound in a poem is listening for the poet’s voice. Nothing drowns voice quicker than ego--it is like squirting ketchup over vanilla ice cream--and one of the reasons why I think being a poet is so hard. The ego always wants in. And that, too, is ok. The condiments of life have their place in the refrigerator, but remember, when the mayo goes bad it goes really, really, bad.