I am a poet. Over the years I've identified myself, at various times, as student, teacher, mother, lawyer, volunteer, birder, and by other passions and pursuits. When I retired from my law practice I had a list of hobbies and interests I planned to pursue: piano, swimming, bird watching, and, of course, writing poetry. Where I had dabbled, I wanted to achieve proficiency. I had been writing sporadically—short stories, essays, poems —since I was a child, but had never pursued writing as a serious matter. Now it was time for poetry to emerge from its status as clandestine hobby.
I was aware of the proliferation of adult education classes for aging boomers but was hesitant to take a writing class, much less a poetry workshop. Like many who become serious about writing at a later age, I had never studied creative writing in college. There was that nagging anxiety: What if what I've been writing isn't really poetry after all? Did I want to take that risk?
I don't believe that writing is a solitary pursuit. My advice to anyone seeking to redefine yourself as a poet or writer is to seek out a community of writers for inspiration, education, encouragement and support. I've found that it is vital to nourish your writerly soul with the camaraderie of others who love writing.
If you live in or near a metropolitan area, chances are there are writing workshops available to you in non-academic settings. Four years ago, I signed up for my first poetry workshop at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. I took a deep breath and plunged into an "intermediate" poetry workshop. Imagine my relief when my first poem to be workshopped was received, by both instructor and class, with respect, interest and encouragement. Yes, it really was a poem, and it became a much better one after workshopping and revision. I've been hooked on Lighthouse's workshops and the fellowship of other poets ever since.
Poetry is by nature self-revealing, and it brings you closer to those with whom you share it. A poetry workshop is an exceptional way to get to know fellow poets. Your instructors and fellow poets will help you advance your writing skills, give you honest criticism, encourage you to take risks, even to publish and take pride in your successes. And you will do the same for them. As you write, share, workshop, revise and take pride in your work, it will become a crucial part of your identity. You will begin to call yourself a poet.
Lois Levinson is a member of the Poetry Book Project at Lighthouse Writer's Workshop in Denver, Colorado. Her first chapbook, Dancing With Cranes, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Bird's Thumb was the first journal to publish her poetry.
Read Lois' poems "Ephemeral Pond" and "Migrations."