Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Poems and Storytelling with Lori Howe

Lori Howe is the poetry presenter on the faculty of this year's Wyoming Writers Conference June 3-5 in Riverton. We invited her to share with us some of her thoughts on poetry for those wanting a flavor of what to expect at the conference.

by Lori Howe
Storytelling is one of the oldest human desires. Poets, like fiction and non-fiction writers, are storytellers. Poets may use fewer words and shorter lines, and the stories they tell may be creatively woven, but the desire to connect to the reader, to revive a shared human experience, remains the same.

Poetry is alchemy and offering. It is the act of distilling the tactile fullness and meaning of an experience into a mirror that helps others see inside themselves, helps them understand their own experiences more deeply.

For those who live in the wild and beautiful American West, landscape is more than a painting—it is a constant, thriving, and active part of daily life. It is a way of knowing, a vocabulary of survival, a dirt road to travel inward. It is a river running through a canyon, a river running through our deepest selves.

Poets and writers of the West fish this river daily. They walk this road. And they share what they find at the intersections and quiet spots. They give us a map to the landscapes inside us, ones that can’t be reached any other way.

As a poet, I find that I am best able to quiet all the noise and deadlines of daily life and tap into those internal roads and rivers when I’m outside. I might be sitting on my front porch, watching the rain, or lying asleep in my tent, listening to coyotes singing from a distant ridge. I might be on a mountain lake in my kayak, watching a flight of egrets catch the last of Wyoming’s golden, late-afternoon light. Wherever I am, I have learned to listen with my whole body, to pay full attention. If I do, sometimes, the moment filters down, hardens, and becomes a warm gem I carry in my pocket; eventually, it will form the heart of a poem.

When I teach poetry workshops, my goal is to help participants pull those warm gems from their own pockets and turn them into poems. If you have a warm gem, a strong, potent memory, the poem will form around it. Here’s an example poem from my book, Cloudshade: Poems of the High Plains.

En Route to My Father’s Funeral

I leave the Interstate
for a probable future
of map-wrestling
in the weak dome light,
and the Kansas moon stands up
to look at me.

Silvered against it,
I feel a stray atom
from when we were all
still fish
twitch inside my bones.

All highways
head straight across Kansas--
long, quiet stretches,
the darkened arches of roofs.
I imagine the people asleep
in their beds,
and they wrap their blankets tight
inside me, turning over,
breathing deep.

At a pale crossroads,
in an open shop two floors up,
a welder works into the night.
His arc is lonesome in the cool air,
gobbets of fire
like unformed angels

As a child,
I watched this same
mercurial rain
from my father’s shop—
strange hobby, I’d thought,
for the silent man
who shared my own eyes,
my own wrists—
not knowing his fire
would buy my clothes
and shoes,
come autumn.

In the rearview mirror,
I arch to see the last drops
leap away.
Strange, I tell
The sleeping Kansans,
this aching,
this longing for a life
I swear I never loved.

I offer this poem because it is a good example of how one small moment can become what I call a warm gem and go on to become the heart of a poem. The warm gem this whole poem formed around was seeing the falling sparks from a welder’s torch in the night air. I carried that sight around with me, and eventually, the rest of this poem built itself around those sparks. We all have those seemingly simple moments that can help us tell the stories we need to tell, and say the things we need to say.

In the writing workshops I’ll teach at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference, and on my Wyoming Humanities Council workshop tour this June, I’ll offer writing prompts created specifically to help us pull those gems out of our pockets and build poems around them.


Lori Howe holds an M.F.A. in poetry, and is a doctoral candidate in Literacy Studies at the University of Wyoming. She has been teaching creative writing workshops with all kinds of writing populations for the last ten years, at the college level and in communities around Wyoming.

She is the editor in chief of Clerestory: Poems of the Mountain West (clerestorypoets.org) and the author of Cloudshade: Poems of the High Plains (Sastrugi Press, 2015), Voices at Twilight (Elm Books, 2016), and is at work on the educational text, Stories from Earth: Literature, Millennials, and Teaching Writing that Matters. She teaches creative writing workshops with underserved writing populations across the state of Wyoming and serves as a leadership team member for the Wyoming Writing Project, a chapter of the National Writing Project. Her current writing project, the novel Heaven of Olives, is set in rural Andalucia, Spain.

Lori will present three workshops at the upcoming Wyoming Writers Inc. 42nd Annual Conference June 3-5 at the Wind River Hotel and Casino in Riverton, Wyoming. Learn more at www.wyowriters.org/conference

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to Lori's workshops at Wyoming Writers conference in Riverton. Have paid my fees and have a room booked. I experienced Lori's energy when she taught at Albany County CC and was editor in chief of the Open Window Review. I hope to tap into that energy in Riverton.


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