A Change of Scene
Dear friends, this is my last Friday post; after, amazingly, nearly nine years of them. But don’t worry, I’m not retiring from the team. I’ll be popping up to (hopefully) entertain and inspire you at other times, in other ways, with a bit more – much-needed – space between commitments. [This is not a result of Sanaa leaving us; we worked out the new system before she resigned. I like to think it may have given her the freedom to make that decision, knowing it wouldn’t now create burdens on the rest of us.]
The Value of Community
At this point I find myself reflecting on these years in which I went from a shy, awkward newcomer – which I hope I managed to conceal fairly well – to a long-term member of this administrative team and this broader community.
I began, like everyone else, as one who enjoyed the prompts. Then the ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ spot became vacant, coinciding with my thought that many fine Aussie poets deserved wider recognition. Robb (our founder) let me give it a go. Gradually I included other poets (even dead ones, as in ‘The Living Dead’) and then other topics.
Some poems I didn’t exactly wish I’d written, because I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the place they came from, but I was enthusiastic about them anyway and keen to share them, so the ‘Thought Provokers’ segment was born. Recently it occurred to me that things which interest me when I’m ‘Roving the Web’ would interest other writers too. ‘Words from Our Community’ came from a wish to acknowledge what wonderful poetry happens right here amongst ourselves.
Fellow team members have always been happy to let me rave on about anything I cared to. When I decided to do just that, airing my thoughts on various matters to do with poetry, or with writing in general, in the form of my so-called ‘Moonlight Musings’ (which tended to happen late at night) I was pleasantly surprised to find that those posts quickly became everyone’s favourites. When I was writing them, I often feared that no-one would find my ramblings the least bit interesting, but after all it became apparent that writers do very much share the same preoccupations. I guess that in itself is one aspect of the value of community, perhaps the greatest value. Who else can we talk to about all that stuff, and receive complete understanding, but others of our kind?
I’ve run a number of writing workshops offline over the years, and still preside over a couple – though lately they’ve had to happen by video. I like to keep things fairly relaxed, with lots of laughter. (And sometimes tears, as people find their writing taking them to emotional places.) Writing happens at these events, and in between them. People find ways to improve particular pieces, and their writing in general grows and develops. Many go on to publication. Yet they all say that what they treasure most about our meetings are the conversations, which often range far and wide, and the friendships consequently formed.
It’s similar here, I think, in this loosely-structured yet close-knit online community. Over time we get to know each other – often quite quickly, but certainly over the long haul. Our writing reveals us to each other; it's not a place we can hide.
But what is revealed; what is it we can’t hide? I think perhaps the soul. Aspects of our personalities don’t necessarily show. Well, some do – we know who loves their gardens or their God, who is appalled by a certain political figure, who adores cats and who prefers dogs, who’s in love and who is disenchanted … but we only know what details people choose to write. Behind all that, reading someone’s work repeatedly over time, we get a sense of the person beyond those details: the flavour of them, if you like.
This sense of the person can happen to some extent with any writing one reads. It happens so much more in a community such as ours, based on interaction with each other: regularly reading and commenting on each other's work. Those who 'link and run' (which I understand happens in some online forums) would miss out on benefits to themselves and their writing – not only because, if they made a habit of it, people would probably stop reading them anyway, but also because there is so much to be gained by exposure to a variety of other writers. It adds to our repertoire and broadens our scope. (Even exposure to bad writing can be incredibly useful, lol. Not that we have any of that here, of course.) When I was running poetry workshops in prison many years ago, I made a point of bringing in a variety of guest poets to work with the participants. They couldn't get that kind of exposure unless I provided it, and they told me they found it very valuable in expanding their range as poets. They said it opened up vistas. We are fortunate enough to have such vistas readily available. Don't underestimate what you do for others by linking your writing here!
A shared passion
Writing is, as we know, an essentially solitary activity in the actual doing – just oneself, alone with the words. A strange compulsion, really, to first find the words and then get them as near as we can to perfect. When we’re lucky they come easily, as if given to us, but often we wrestle with them. We have to at least get a first draft down before we can begin to share them with anyone else. And we’re lucky if our nearest and dearest understand either the impulse or the result. Even when they like what we write, can they comprehend the passion for writing itself, why we do it even if it’s unlikely to make us rich or famous – why we not only do it but give it so much of our time and focus? If you’re married to another writer, as I had the good fortune to be – or probably to any kind of artist – that helps. Or if there's someone in your birth family (my Dad scribbled a bit). But otherwise, I don’t like the chances.
A community of writers with whom we interact repeatedly over time not only fills a need but starts to feel like a group of friends, or even a family. I think it’s greatly to be cherished. The fact that we learn from each other – can’t help doing so through our interactions – is a bonus. Then, too, in this international community the wide diversity of backgrounds, interests, lifestyles, and approaches to writing enriches us all.
And the fact that I’ve stayed up much too late – again! – chasing after the Muse? Well I guess that’s a price I’m happy to pay.
Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. (Older poems may be out of copyright). For the photo of the map-reader, found on Unsplash, I thank Leio McLaren.