Perhaps it is a friend of yours. Perhaps it is you. That woman who looks out of a rain-streaked window and sees not mud, but a metaphor. An observer in the supermarket who when walking by the kiwis thinks of tennis balls gone wrong. The grandmother watching her grandchildren play video games and recalling the first time she saw television.

Maybe, just maybe, you or a friend of yours (or both of you) should consider a poetry workshop.

Every summer I find myself involved in a Summer Writers Conference. For 12 summers now, my work has been mostly behind the scenes, but, for four summers when we were starting out, I attended one of the several poetry workshops that were offered.

No two experiences were alike and no two teachers taught the same way, but all were more than worthwhile and each contributed to my confidence and growth. More than anything, I came away from each having made friends whose secret or not-so-secret dreams and concerns came to light in verse.

This summer, for the first time in six years, I’m back in the classroom. I’m not studying poetry this time, but I often do study the poetry students during the hours when all the conference participants get together. They’re easy to spot. They smile a great deal, they stick together and they adore the poets who are their teachers. They are envied.

The poets. Let’s talk about them.

Billy Collins, Tom Lux, Derek Walcott and Mark Doty. All are teaching or have taught at this Conference and all are stars in poetry’s firmament. Each can be described as generous to his students. Yet, it’s the women teachers who might be of more interest to us today.

What I particularly wish is that you had had or will have the chance to study with someone you can truly identify with– someone like these women poet-teachers who have guided so many students in the gorgeous agony of making poems. It is no coincidence that these women are all just about the same age as the readers of Women’s Voices. Now is the perfect time of life to have the understanding that we owe guidelines or lines of poetry to those who are still trying to decode melancholy and joy.

On this Poetry Friday, it’s a pleasure to give you a glimpse of each by quoting a bit of her work. Enjoy (and think about joining in the conversation of poets someday soon).


Carol Muske-Dukes (whom we have recently brought to the WVFC stage.)

Here’s how we were counted:   

firstborn, nay-sayers,

veterans, slow-payers,

seditionists, convicts,

half-breeds, has-beens,

the nearly defined dead,

all the disenfranchised live.

From “Census,” by Carol Muske-Dukes

Marie Howe

Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,

From “The Copper Beech,” by Marie Howe

Susan Kinsolving

Birds hush. A dense calm weights the air. Across
the steamy lawn, shadows darken. Branches
undulate with an ominous grace. Clouds
converge into friction

From “Summer Storm,” by Susan Kinsolving

Julie Sheehan

I hate you truly. Truly I do.

Everything about me hates everything about you.

The flick of my wrist hates you.

The way I hold my pencil hates you

From “The Story About The Hate,” by Julie Sheehan.

Laura Baudo Sillerman is an adviser to the Stony Brook University Southampton Writers Conference and The Southampton Review.

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