Sunday, March 3, 2013

Revising Myth, Making it Girly

Not an empty seat at Hinovations last night!

I'm coming off my workshop high, well, that and a slight hangover from cheap Goddess wine :)

Last night went amazingly well, better than I could have dreamed of, in fact.  I guess I'll start from the very beginning, as stories oft go.

It was maybe two months ago; Rachel Vela, founder of a local poetry reading series affectionately called We Need Words, sent me a message on facebook. "What do you think of leading a workshop?" she asked.

I jumped on it. Of course! Yes, I was a little nervous, but it was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, to give back to the community, and to maybe grow as a writer myself. I agreed to do it. Rachel would organize and publicize; all I had to do was lead. Fair enough.

I decided to teach what I know best -- the writing of revisionist myths. It was, after all, what I wrote my thesis about, and it's how I frame a lot of what I write within poetic discourse. I wanted to encourage other women to engage in mythmaking, too, to broaden and complicate the conversation. Afterall, I'm a firm believer that we ARE our stories, both as a culture and as individuals. I'm Eve's daughter, through and through.

Next came the tricky part. I had to actually figure out HOW to put a workshop together. Now,  I've had a lot of great examples. I've participated in some fantastic workshops throughout my years as a poet -- most notable was Dana Gioia's workshop on the poetic line at West Chester. I remembered that Dana gave a lot of examples in his workshop, and that as a group, we read a lot of poems and discussed them. I wanted my workshop to have that, too, but I also wanted my participants to leave with some "seeds of poems" as I like to call them, inklings to write more. I wanted our workshop to be a sharing of work, an exploration of our voices.

And I like to think it was that. I scoured my books for good examples of revisionist myths. I took examples from Biblical stories, classical mythology, disney movies, and local folklore. I wanted to show my participants that mythmaking was, yes, something that's been going on throughout history, but most importantly, that it continues today. I decided to intermix exercises with examples, read a few poems, write a little, share, then repeat. I hoped it was a good mix.

Rachel created a facebook event. I invited my lady friends and my students. I posted flyers around my university. I talked the workshop up to my colleagues. 

Anyway, the day of the workshop was upon me. Bruno drove me down to Hinovations Art Studio. In one hand, I had my "teacher bag" filled with handouts. In the other, I carried a big bottle of Goddess wine, chosen just for this occasion. I was nervous; I was the first one there, and the workshop was set to begin in fifteen minutes!

Women began trickling in. A photographer from my university's newspaper, a couple of my students, then Rachel, friends, poets, colleagues, complete strangers. Oh joy! We mingled, talked about our projects, laughed, loosened up, drank wine. Soon, there wasn't an empty seat in the room. We had to bring in more chairs. The doorbell kept ringing; women kept joining. I was ecstatic, though a little nervous. Among the participants were two writers I really admire -- Diana Dominguez, a professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Edna Ochoa, a Spanish creative writing professor at my university. What on earth could I teach THEM?

In true Valley poet fashion, the actual workshop got started about thirty minutes late. No problem. I had them begin writing a story, any story, they remember hearing/reading/watching when they were a child. I thought it would be a great icebreaker and way to introduce ourselves, too -- to go around and share these stories along with a little introduction about us. We are our stories. I shared a little tale about a troll living inside my bedroom wall -- something my mom always told me (maybe that's why I had terrible insomnia as a child?). As we went around the "circle," I was really impressed by all the different directions everyone took the assignment. Some told stories about their family members, the infamous ones about, oh, you know, the uncle burning down the barn; some retold fairy tales; others shared folk stories. It was great.

We talked about who the narrator was in our stories; it's usually 3rd person, and stories are usually told by the victors. Isn't that how it always goes? We read Allison Hawthorne Deming's poem and  talked about how Eve's version of the fall is so different from the Biblical version, or Milton's version, just because it's told from a new point of view. Our next exercise was to experiment with point of view in our story. And away we went. I decided to retell my story from the wall troll's perspective :D But others did a far more wonderful job than I.

We also looked at persona poems (Siren Song and The Little Mermaid Gets Real), the advice poem (Advice from La Llorona), and contemporary retellings of myths (I used one of my own examples, The Garden of Dresses).

Anyway, as the night progressed, we wrote and talked, wrote and talked. It went far better than I could have imagined. I glanced down at my clock. We had just 30 minutes left of our 3 hour workshop. Where had the time gone!?

I like to think that everyone got a little something out of the workshop. At one point, one of my students shared a poem that reduced her to tears (a powerful moment). Diana Dominguez enthusiastically thanked me, saying that, through these exercises, she's got an idea as to how to finish the last poem for her forthcoming collection. Shirley Rickett, another local poet, rewrote a stubborn poem and shared it with us (it took our breath away!). As I was packing away my books and papers, I got a mariad of hugs, of thank yous, of encouragement. It was payment indeed. A few ladies lingered afterwards, and we talked about how we might keep something like this going. I'd love to have a regular women's poetry group that meets to talk about revision, that workshops and critiques each others works.

I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. I was so impressed by the turn out and enthusiasm. The arts are alive and thriving here in El Valle. I'm honored to be a part of this community, and I'm excited to find new ways that I can give back, mentor, and learn from these amazingly talented women.

My cup runneth over, but I wouldn't have it any other way :) Next week, we're onto kicking off our women's reading series, "Chicks With Words" and oh, oh, do I have words to spare. 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I wish I lived in Texas! Any chance you would consider running an online version of this workshop? I would so totally be in!

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  2. Absolutely! I've actually given a workshop via SecondLife before, so it's something that's totally doable. Thanks for stopping in!

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