As soon as I heard that the GWG was thinking of inviting Laura Kasischke to Geneva to be a guest instructor for poetry, I knew I had to make every effort to be there. So I came all the way from the UK to see and hear her (and I was not the only one).
Of course, Laura herself came all the way from snowy Michigan, battling jetlag and not quite getting to see anything of the city, just to share with us her love of poetry, inspire and motivate us to keep on writing and improving.
The weekend started with a Friday evening of poetry readings and signing with Laura and Wallis Wilde Menozzi in the magnificent surroundings of Payot Rive, with their knowledgeable and supportive staff. The two poets both write prose as well, but when they were asked which of the two they would choose, if someone were to tell them that for the rest of their lives they could only do one or the other, they both replied: 'Poetry.' After all, you don't choose to write poetry, it chooses you!
On Saturday 18th we discussed imagery in poetry, based on Pierre Reverdy's statement that the image is born from a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities. The greater the distance, the more interesting the image gets - as long as we don't lose the truth of it! Laura encouraged us to put unlikely things together and, if it doesn't immediately work out, to allow things to mate and gestate in a drawer.
Another timely reminder as I go through bouts of ranting and confessional poetry was that you cannot 'express yourself' in poetry. Rather, it's about a journey of self-discovery, working things out during the course of a poem, allowing it to surprise you (and the reader). I loved Laura's insistence on concrete, sensory details rather than abstract concepts and nouns. Quoting from Borges, she told us: 'Every detail is an omen and a cause' and that we may well find out that we describe things in different ways at different points in our life, as our irrational, subconscious works its magic on the world around us. Laura proved to be a great believer in the craft of prose and the inspiration of poetry. Although you do have to edit your poems, she warned us that 'I know I'm done with a poem when I pull out the thesaurus and start looking too hard for a different word.'
The masterclass on Sunday was intense and exhilarating. When else do you get a chance to discuss poems all day with a group of 13 like-minded people? You learn so much not just from having your own poems dissected and edited (and, occasionally, partly admired), but also from other poets' images and from their attempts to convey certain thoughts or sensations. Laura proved to be the ideal workshop facilitator, always encouraging, warm and positive.
I left the Genevois weekend feeling nourished, nurtured, reinvigorated, full of renewed passion for words and poetry, bursting to the seams with ideas and the courage to try them out.
This is what keeps so many of us coming back to the events organised by the Geneva Writers' Group, even though we have moved away from the area. There is a magic in such a diverse group of people, with perhaps only one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for the written and spoken word.