For the first time, Patchwork will be focusing on poetry writing. Last session’s focus on fiction was a success and each of the participants generated some fantastic work – science fiction, magic realism, fantasy – and I’m looking forward to this session’s focus on poetry.

For anyone writing alongside at home, or considering registering for this workshop, here is the bonus session recap that was just sent out to participants.

Happy Friday, Patchwork Poets.

You’re receiving this email because you RSVPd yes or maybe to the Patchwork Poetics group. If you’d prefer not to get these update emails, let me know!

This will be a long email, and it’s in two sections so skip ahead or budget your time as required. You’ll find an introduction to Patchwork and how the group works (which will be expanded on at our first meeting on August 3), and three prompts for your own writing at home.

First, an intro to Patchwork.

I’m Tiffany, and I’ll be facilitating our group. I’ve been facilitating writing workshops for over four years, and I love this work. I’m available throughout the course to read and offer feedback on your partial or completed writing pieces, and I’ll be sending a recap email after each session as well as sending writing prompts throughout the week. You are never expected or obligated to share your work either with me or with the group, and how (and whether) you respond to the writing prompts is totally up to you.

If you do share your just-written work with the group or with me, we will respond only with what works or is effective in the piece. Your willingness to take a risk and share will never be met with harsh critiques or challenging questions. If you want to share polished work and receive a mix of positive response and constructive, compassionate critique, that is also an option available to anyone in the group.

If you do want to share your work with me or with the group, you can send it by email or read it at our in-person sessions. If you email a piece to the group or to me, let us know if it is a just-written response to a writing prompt, or if you are looking for critique.

Patchwork, like all Writing in the Margins workshops, is based on Pat Schneider’s Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method. That means that we have a few guidelines in place that will be part of each session, and part of our interactions outside of the sessions.

You can learn more about how the workshops are run at Pat Schneider’s website or in her book, which you’re welcome to borrow from me, and these are the basic guidelines (from the website):

Unique to the AWA method… are these two revolutionary practices:
• Everything in the writing workshop is treated as fiction, to minimize the personal vulnerability of the writer, and
• The teacher or leader writes with the students or participants, and reads aloud along with the other writers.
These practices, along with keeping all writing confidential, responding to just-written work with encouragement rather than negative critique, create an environment that is non-hierarchical, honest, and safe. Accomplished and beginning writers learn from one another in a generous atmosphere of both critical craft and personal respect for the value of every voice.

My commitment to you is that I will respect these guidelines, and will make sure that they are respected within the workshop space. In addition, if there are other considerations that would help make the Patchwork space feel safer and more welcoming to you, please let me know! The goal of the group is to support and encourage your unique creative voice, and that’s only possible if you feel safe. It is my job to create that space for you as much as possible.

Second, the prompts!

We had a bonus meeting on Sunday, for those folks who were able to attend the original start date. Although we won’t be officially starting until August 3, I wanted to share with you the prompt that we discussed (at lovely, luxurious length!) a few days ago. This prompt lends itself most obviously to prose writing, but I think it could easily become a poem. We will be focusing on poetry in this round of Patchwork, and our prompts will mainly be poetry prompts, but as always all genres and all voices and all writing styles are welcome.

The prompt is modified from one of Priscilla Uppal’s contributions to the book “The Writer’s Gym,” and has to do with myths, fables, fairytales and family stories. Priscilla writes about a love of myth in her youth, a love that I can certainly relate to. The prompt, in its original form, is to interview a family member (or multiple family members) for their stories, and then to retell those stories with an emphasis on how they might map onto existing tropes of fairytale, fable, myth and archetype.

We obviously didn’t bring our family members to the workshop, so the modified prompt was to take an existing story (either from our own lives or families, or from our existing fictional writing) and to retell that story with an emphasis on mythological elements.

But even this, theoretically much easier, quicker prompt, was too much! We agreed, each of us there, that we needed to do more research, find more fairytales, more fables, more myths, more archetypes. As part of my own research, I’m rereading Neil Gaiman’s fantastic book, American Gods. I’m also digging through my memories of family stories, and looking to the mythologies of my various cultures (I’m Norwegian, Scottish, British and settler Canadian).

So, my dear poets, if this prompt speaks to you then take your notebook, your laptop, your voice recorder or just your ears and go out searching for stories. Expand the definition of family to include your chosen family, or yourself. Find stories, sit with them, hold them up against existing mythological stories, and find a fit. Then stitch them together!

I will be interviewing my dad. The man who raised him, a cook in their home in Nigeria, died last week. Issues of religious imperialism (my grandparents were missionaries), colonialism, classism and privilege are swirling around in my head, and I think there is definitely something deep and archetypal about those kinds of conflicts. We’ll see what comes of it!

And now, two new prompts:

The first comes from a workshop that I attended at the Canadian Creative Writer’s Conference in Vancouver earlier this year. I was at a brilliant panel that included a discussion of list poems, and I was enchanted by the speaker’s enthusiasm for this (often maligned) form. So, write a list poem. Think about how a list can be a window into a world, and how all the context that goes unspoken around the list – the negative space of the poem – creates a poetic form that is deceptively simple. Here is a list poem taken from a story in my family’s history.


Empty house
Pot roast thawing
“Please cook the roast. I’m sorry.”

And finally, a prompt taken from Mary Oliver’s book “A Poetry Handbook” –

She writes, “The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem – the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say – exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious. It learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It wait, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself – soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.

Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime. Who knows anyway what it is, that wild skily part of ourselves without which no poem can live? But we do know this: if it is going to enter into a passionate relationship and speak what is in its own portion of your mind, the other responsible and purposeful part of you had better be a Romeo. It doesn’t matter if risk is somewhere close by – risk is always hovering somewhere. But it won’t involve itself with anything less than perfect seriousness.

For the would-be writer of poems, this is the first and most essential thing to understand. It comes before everything, even technique.”

Your prompt is to sit with Mary Oliver’s admonition to be a Romeo to your poetic heat, and write down the responses that rise up in you. Maybe you are excited by this prospective romance – write that. Maybe you are afraid, of failure, of judgment, of rejection, of a new genre, of the blank page – write that. Maybe you are angry at the suggestion that reliability is essential, and maybe you are chronically ill or overworked or exhausted and you only have scraps of time to begin with – write that. Maybe it feels welcoming, maybe it feels exclusive, maybe it feels open, maybe it feels closed. Write all that down. Pour out the emotional response to what the author says is the most essential thing, and then if you feel inspired to do so, push those words around until they form a poem.

Personally, I believe that Mary Oliver is right that we must romance our creativity and be present with it, and nurture the relationship the same as we must nurture any other relationship, *but* I also believe that we do the best we can with the resources that we have available, and that our creative hearts recognize effort and intention. If you don’t show up at the desk between seven and nine because you are laying in bed in pain, the heat of your poetic heart will not retreat or die out. You can be a poet and be ill, neurodivergent, differently abled, overworked, exhausted, anxious, afraid of failure. You can be a poet even if you only make it to the desk once a month. You can be a poet even if you never write outside of these workshops.

I wish that I could wave my magic wand and grant you each time and energy to invest in your poetry writing with the rigour and commitment that every single how-to book demands, but I can’t. We live in a toxic capitalist culture that shames us for any deviation from the norm, that looks down on creative expression in the first place and *especially* creative expression coming from the margins. As much as possible, Patchwork is kept separate from those harmful messages. You are welcome here, no matter how much time you’re able to commit to this work. The goal is to help you develop a sustainable writing practice, and one that feels safe, welcoming, supportive and expansive. The more you can show up at the page, the better. But there’s no minimum required for participation, and you will never have to explain yourself to me or to this group. Be a poet. Be a writer. You already are! I’m excited to spend time with you, exploring our poetry together.

I’ll see you all on August 3 at 1:30 at the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, and I’ll send another prompt or two between now and then.

Happy writing!

– Tiffany


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