Gemini Ink
Image from GeminiInk.org.
gary s. whitford

Words fascinate some San Antonians. For these people, each word has weight, and character. It represents a thought, specifies an observation, responds to sensual stimuli. People among you pursue their interest in words by paying attention to the literate environment. Some read books, some work crossword puzzles or play games – Words With Friends (the new WWF). Some make their living from words – teachers, storytellers, historians, journalists, commercial attorneys and copywriters. And our graceful, cultural city has a lively and diverse gaggle of poets.

Poetry has a certain reputation in mainstream culture – poets are often regarded as effetes, strange eccentrics with odd affectations and questionable sanity. Many people are afraid of poetry – and writing in general – scared off by the rules pounded in during middle school.

Nan Cuba founded Gemini Ink in 1992 to help tear down the walls between academic strictures and the natural pursuit of expression through words. In a recent conversation, she said that we need to stop thinking of grammar and formal style instruction as rules and regard them as “options.” By learning the tools of writing without the admonitions and requirements that bind creativity, people can more fully express their voices. It’s a marvelous balance known to cyclists and dancers – inspiration enhanced by skill.

Gemini Ink
Image from Gemini Ink.

Express Yourself

We are all poets. We know the language, all we have to do is pay attention. Writing organizes information. When you approach a clean piece of paper and pen you like to hold, get in touch with your feelings and lay it down, it’s not always complete sentences, it’s not always subject predicate object, it occasionally has images, it can be allegorical, but it’s definitely what you have to say at the moment. On the screen (and this applies to any kind of writing), set your font to a typeface that pleases you, set your zoom to a size you can easily read, and say what you mean.

But we all have a desire to bring order to the cacophony of feelings rattling around inside our heads and hearts and communicate our perspectives. Writing helps you sort out the emotions and express your inner voice. Disregard the rules, open your spinning subconscious and set it down on paper. Writing can straighten things out considerably.

Once you have spilled it out, pay attention to the words you have written. Apply the “options” to sharpen and amplify your meaning. As you work it, you will see marvels: vivid memories, details in the surrounding environment (be they jack hammers or birdsong, skyscrapers or treescapes), a rhythm develops and you suddenly find yourself with something that looks a whole lot like “poetry.”

Defining Poetry

A few weeks ago, I challenged Facebook friends through our Extraordinary Words page to define poetry. “I care not to define poetry,” I wrote, “you do it.” A wonderful diversity of responses accrued, starting with writers who went for the definition assignment:

“Cadence. Essence,” Jamie Allen replied almost immediately after the post.

James Dawes wrote:

“POEM
Distillation of ideas, images
Musicality of words, lines”

And Stevan Zivadinovic-Rocha conjured the magic: “Word alchemy.”

The plurality of our responders, however, expressed the expressive power of poetry. Nan Cuba bridged the banks: “Poetry manipulates the language to express the inexpressible.”

Sun Poets Society moderator Rod Carlos Stryker wrote, “To create is to breathe is to live.”

Don Mathis, a congenial poet-about-town exclaimed, “Poetry is the opium of the poets. Or maybe it’s the religion… Either way, it raises my spirits, informs my soul, and inspires my life!”

Sophia E. DiGonis: “One who writes poetry, feels…”

Elizabeth Garland: “Poetry is that part of me that cries out, whether in pain or ecstasy.”

Léona Marie Hetherington: “A poet sees the world as a window feeling the energy and putting it in words. Often the poet catches the world’s diseases.  (She) does not die, just wishes she did. At best, a poet is at the highest of light.”

Viktoria Valenzuela: “A poet and her poetry is the conduit between worlds. As a poet she is tapped into the pulse of each place, here, there, and beyond. The known and unknown. She may keep a record of the mood we are living in, or if there is outrage, it comes through, and if there is beauty that comes also.”

Finally, Bob Bevard recognized the function of a poet in expressing the human experience: “I write poetry which tells beautiful stories…”

So I put words on paper
Words with meaning not rhyme
And I ask you to add the music…”

Unintimidated

Hearing a poem in your head is a gift of the muse; writing it down is a gift to your legacy; sharing it is a gift to all humanity. San Antonio’s broad and diverse poetry community shares with committed vigor.

As Melanie Robinson wrote in The Rivard Report a few weeks ago, we have a vibrant slam community; strong cultural poetry groups abound; and a lively jazz poetry scene explores the word/music boundary. Get a glimpse of the scene in the video below, a performance by jazz poet Cat Lee reading “Homage to Mobi, Runner/writer” and with Cecil Carter on trumpet at Barnes & Noble earlier this month. Lee and Carter have formed Keys of Cees, a jazz poetry ensemble, and they are developing Word Bop Workshop, a training for poets and musicians.

Homage to Mobi, Runner/Writer from Catherine Lee on Vimeo.

These poets have different styles, their work rhymes or doesn’t rhyme, their meter is measured or uneven. They self-qualify as poets, usually driven by irresistible impulses to write what they are feeling. I know enough about poetry to seriously doubt myself when I get up to read, but I’ll even admit to writing a line or two of lyrical verse. We either depart the judgments, the rules, the assessments or stand up to them, but poets who share will not be intimidated.

Make Yourself Heard through the Power of Words

If you respond to your inner voice and wish to make it heard through poetry, you have allies waiting to hear, comment and share. If it’s too personal, leave it in your journal. But you heard your mother tongue while gestating in the womb, you were born into a culture of words. Use them to articulate your thoughts. Write – it feels good.

Poetry in our Cultural City

Gemini Ink is just one center of poetry and writing in San Antonio. Small writer’s groups, poetry readings and workshops happen year-round all over town.

Poets also participate in readings around town.  They gather to stand up and read or huddle around a table and listen to other poet/writers deliver feedback on their work.  I will not attempt a directory here of the diverse array of groups because I am sure to leave some out. The Rivard Report welcomes you to promote your group or gathering in the comments below. You may also define poetry for us – we’d like to see your take.

Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford issues this standard disclaimer: “I may, or may not, know what I am talking about.” He apologizes in advance to everyone not covered in this column. You can read more of his writing on his personal blog or his company’s website, Extraordinary WordsHis column, Every Word Counts, appears in the Rivard Report every weekend.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org