(Photo: Jeff Eaton)

By Lois P. Jones

My first live workshop experience was at San Miguel de Allende Mexico in 2005 for the wonderful ongoing San Miguel Poetry Week founded by sisters Jennifer Clement and Barbara Sibley. I was new to poetry and had spent the better part of two years posting and moderating at an online poetry forum, where I could both give and receive critiques in the comfort and silence of my home. At the behest of friend and poet, Peter Ludwin, I applied for San Miguel. “I’m not ready,” I thought, but I dove in, feeling a need to drastically change old habits. I’d just lost a job after eleven years and the idea of traveling and spending a week with poets in the heart of colonial Mexico was terra incognita, and I was in need of a new world.

It was a great turning point in my life as I sat in the cool catacombs of Belles Artes with twelve workshop attendees and Willis Barnstone, that day’s assigned faculty and one of the great poets and translators of our time. There was magic in the sensation of hearing a poet read their words aloud. I could feel the rhythms, a poem’s sonority and nuance. I received aspects of the poem never present on the page, and each critique brought a kind of revelation—a new way of creating in the moment along with the poet as we worked together to bring our best ideas for revision forward.

It was there I met Mary Fitzpatrick, a veteran writer and Southern California poet who would some two years later invite me to be a part of what turned out to be a women’s poetry workshop in the San Gabriel Valley. For an entire year, the four of us met monthly to review one another’s work and offer insights. Sharing your poetry in a live setting exposes you to one another’s most intimate thoughts and experiences. Through these critiques, we bonded not only as poets but as women who offered humor, femininity, support and friendship. When it ended due to conflicting schedules, I felt a real loss and hoped another opportunity to write with women would come my way.

Two years later, it did.

I was invited by one of my friends, a member of Westside Women Writers (WWW)  to submit my work as the group run by Millicent Borges Accardi was accepting applications for new members. At my first gathering with WWW I knew it was a natural fit. Becoming a part of a workshop is not only based on your work quality or ability to offer insightful critique but your chemistry with others. A poetry group is like a living organism that learns to breathe as one. You become attuned to the pulse of each poet, their style and abilities. You learn to be open to each “gift” and to receive feedback with grace.

You discover how each poet perceives, and with each member of WWW I have the opportunity to gain from strong writers who are comfortable with their talents. There is no sense of competitiveness but more a desire to involve one another in their own activities.    Becoming part of a women’s poetry group was a natural evolution of my process. With WWW there is a comfort and trust that merges quietly with a level of professionalism I am more than satisfied with. I learn from everyone’s desire to grow and to change.

Lois P. Jones’s poetry and photographs have been published in American Poetry Journal, Raven Chronicles, Qarrtsiluni, Rose & Thorn, Tiferet, and other print and online journals in the U.S. and abroad.  She is co-founder of Word Walker Press and a documentarist of Argentina’s wine industry. Since 2008 she has hosted KPFK’s long-running radio series in Los Angeles, Poet’s Cafe (90.7 FM Pacifica Radio), produced by Marlena Bond. Lois co-produces Moonday West in the Pacific Palisades and Moonday East at Flintridge Books.  She is the Poetry Editor of Kyoto Journal and a three-time Pushcart Nominee as well as a 2010/2011 nominee for Best New Poets.  In 2010 her poem “Ouija” was selected as Poem of the Year by judge Dana Goodyear.  Lois has been featured in Prague and mostly recently Southampton, England as well as in the Distinguished Writer’s Series in Tacoma Washington and many venues in Southern California.




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