The Seriousness of Poetry

Setting: A poetry workshop at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing. Fourteen attendees and one facilitator sit in plastic chairs arranged into a lopsided circle.

Attendees have just finished their first writing exercise.

Facilitator: We've all had sixty seconds. Shall we read what we've created? Let's hear three or so, then pause to consider what stands out most ...

Reader #1: (coughs a bit, reads quietly) Lake Michigan ... sand dunes ... swim on wide feet ... out over the river ... it would be lovely ... like a highway map ... on the palm of your hand.

(attendees sigh and nod appreciatively)

Reader #2: (run together) Tulips and traffic of dunes in Peg and Bill's diner open as a book past the glowing compost of my mind.

(attendees nod and sigh, but appear slightly confused)

Reader #3: (clears throat) Electricity. (clears throat again, dramatically, and begins to read in epic poetry slam style) The glow ... of pollen ... on the fallen darkness of my soul ... is ... not ... a thing ... for ...

(As Reader #3 reads, the door opens and Latecomer enters. She moves toward a seat quietly.)

Reader #3: (continuing unbroken) the squeamish. (pause as if drums are beating the rhythm of the poem) Electricity ... far from dusk ... into (Reader #3 stops abruptly as Latecomer enters the circle of chairs. All attendees look at Latecomer. The attention makes Latecomer nervous and awkward. She drops her umbrella, trips over someone's bag.)

(Reader #3 watches Latecomer even after she is settled in her chair. For several beats, Reader #3 continues to stare at Latecomer.)

Reader #3: (Clears throat to return to reading. Latecomer shifts her position, causing Reader #3 to stop and fix her with a stare once more. Finally, Reader #3 begins. From the beginning.)  Electricity. (clears throat again, dramatically, and begins to read once more in epic poetry slam style) The glow ... of pollen ... on the fallen darkness of my soul ... is ... not ... a thing ... for ...  the squeamish. Electricity ... far from dusk ... into dusk ... (growing quieter and more dramatic) into dusk ... into dusk ... into ... dusk ... in ... to ... ... dusk.

Facilitator: (Over the final syllable.) Very good, so what do we notice about these selections? 

(Attendees begin talking at once, the tension in the air evaporating except for Reader #3 who glares fixedly at Latecomer until lights out.)

The other workshop I attended was on playwriting. Can you tell?