I have no formal education in poetry – I just read poetry for years and then suddenly I realized it was time to start writing poems. Going from writing to sharing my work was a massive transition for me, and I don’t have a writing community. Creating poetry has been a solitary process for me, and it can be difficult to know if my meanings actually convey to other people. So I jumped at the opportunity to work with Jason in this mentorship, but I was also intimidated.
It turned out to be a wonderful experience. “Bitter Herbs” is a short poem, and Jason helped me to find new ways to think about its form and structure even within the constraint of that brevity. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the words of a poem, at times to the detriment of the meaning. The questions he asked me about the intention of the poem forced me to sit with my own ideas until I really understood them.
This was an especially personal poem for me, and it can be hard to find the emotional distance to edit poems that are precious that way. Jason’s knowledge of craft and supportive, dispassionate advice helped me to find ways to tighten the poem, reshape its structure and clarify the layers of meaning. Our conversation helped evolve the structure of the poem into three couplets. I doubt I would have done that on my own. In particular, a conversation about reordering the last two lines helped me recognize what I wanted from my imagery.
Writing poetry is both very comfortable and incredibly difficult for me. I’d describe this mentorship the same way.
Alanna Shaikh was born in a Rust Belt city where it rained all the time and she grew up to work in global health. She now splits her time between writing and pandemic response. She believes that the St. Lawrence River is the best river in the world and clean water is a form of love.