Skip to main content

How to Cook Up a Poetry Jam (Guest Post by Daniel Ari)

Please welcome Daniel Ari, who has offered up a guest post on how to start a poetry jam. Ari has been putting writing jams together since he was an undergrad. In the late 90s, he had a long-running group called "Poetry Slide," and nowadays, he hosts monthly sessions at home for reading and writing poems together.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

*****

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life," says Hemingway, which is fine if you like it that way. On the other hand, when poets share energy, the writing life can get even more rewarding.

Bruce Niedt makes an excellent case for writing in a group. Poeming together fuels creativity, sparks new ideas, and puts individuals in touch with sympathetic listeners. And while writers' retreats require large commitments of time and money, poetry jams can be informal, improvisational and affordable--even free.

Writing jams typically emphasize process over product. Since time is limited, revisions tend toward the minimal. If poets share their work, it's understood that the poems are rough, and no apologies are needed. Because of this, jammers can feel free to experiment, stretch and surprise themselves. Even if the quality of "the product" slips when written in company--as Hemingway fears--it benefits us as poets to bring awareness to our connection with our audience, our peers and our artistic tradition.

If you're inspired to find a group, searching online may turn up some options. But if you can't find a group you like, you can certainly start your own. Here are some tips for creating poetry jams:

Decide on a flavor. The sessions I like best are relaxed, inclusive, and process-oriented. My typical announcement emphasizes these aspects:

Let's get together for a relaxed session of reading and writing poetry. Bring a favorite poem to share if you wish. All levels welcome. Please invite others who would enjoy the group. (Donations accepted in cash or refreshments to share.)

Be clear about what you want from your group. If you're only inviting experienced poets, if the focus will be reading poetry, if you're looking for collaboration, or if the goal is to produce solid drafts; knowing what you want will help you attract the right writers.

Find a good place to spread out. Whether it's a cozy den, a sunny park, a kitchen table, or a multi-purpose room at your local library, the setting for your jam is important. It should be conducive both to conversation and to quietude. And for me, snacks and beverages are also necessities.

Prepare your ingredients. What do you do once the tribe is gathered, the pens are uncapped and the notebooks are open? Sometimes a group steers itself, and as a facilitator, I'm always ready to let the group decide what it wants to do. But it's also important to have some structure prepared. Here are elements I've used in poetry jams:

  • Check in: participants share thoughts about poetry or wishes for the group
  • Reading: a leader or several participants share poems for inspiration or as a keynote to a discussion
  • Discussion: the group mulls over some facet of art, creativity, or living poetically
  • Prompting: a leader or several participants propose one or more directions for writing, which could involve a theme, a poetic form, an activity, a word list, a language experiment, or any number of options
  • Writing: participants work independently for a set period of time
  • Sharing: participants have the option to share what they've written and receive feedback
  • More: multiple rounds of writing and sharing can happen depending on time and inclination
  • Logistics: scheduling the next meeting, sharing community announcements, etc.

Learn to share. I've found it helpful to review a few rules for creative feedback before sharing starts so that everyone can feel safe:

  1. The person who is sharing directs the feedback, asking for the kind of critique or input that he or she wishes to receive.
  2. Input should be given as "I" statements: "When I hear your poem, I think about..." not "Your poem is about..."
  3. Participants with specific edits should ask before offering the suggestion, e.g., "Would you like to hear an idea about your last stanza?"
  4. Insist on respect. End any feedback session if voices are rising and feelings are at risk of being hurt. It's okay to err on the side of caution, especially in new groups.

Happy Jamming!

*****

Thank you, Daniel! I know I feel inspired to test the waters sometime in the future after reading this post.

*****

If you're interested in contributing a guest post for Poetic Asides, click here to learn how to get the ball rolling.

*****

Publish your poetry!
The 2011 Poet's Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, lists hundreds of publishing opportunities for your poetry. This guide also includes several articles on the craft and business ends of poetry.

Click here to learn more.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: An Interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our interview with Steven Rowley and Jessica Strawser, 5 WDU courses, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top websites by and about agents as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Author Ashley Poston discusses how she combined her love of ghost stories, romance, and books into her new romance novel, The Dead Romantics.

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how much of a fight's details to actually put into a story, and how even with fight scenes sometimes less is more.

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction, by Piper Huguley

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Author Piper Huguley shares her five research tips for writing historical fiction that readers love and writers love as well.

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Learn more about 40 Plot Twist Prompts for Writers, Volume 2: ALL NEW Writing Ideas for Taking Your Stories in New Directions, by Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer. Discover fun and interesting ways to move your stories from beginning to end.

Interviewing Tips | Tyler Moss

Interviewing 101: Tips for Writers

Interviewing sources for quotes or research will be part of any writer's job. Here are tips to make the process as smooth and productive as possible.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character work to eliminate a threat.

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

Gothic horror and its many subgenres continues to increase in popularity. Here, author Ava Reid shares 4 tips on writing gothic horror.