Sometimes, in crises, there are no words.
Or at least, not the right ones. Not the ones you’re hoping for.
There’s been a torrent of verbiage these last few months about a pathogen that took a wrecking ball to the world. Yet ultimately, reading about it leaves you feeling worse than helpless: You wind up deservedly angry and legitimately confused.
This is where poetry comes in, a type of verbal expression that (if I were poetry’s PR consultant) I might sum up as:
Still words. But better.
In a fraught time, local scribe Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and her poetry classes are thriving.
Trommer has offered several poetry reading and writing classes via Zoom during the pandemic. You might say she addresses both facets of poetry, offering poetry reading classes to those who seek beautifully crafted, consoling words right now, and writing instruction for those who want help formulating their own responses to what they are seeing and feeling.
Her classes have filled up quickly. In fact, they’ve been selling out so fast that Trommer recently doubled her offerings: Her “Practical Poet: Attending to Craft” session is being held twice each week (choose your segment). She also added a third series, a weekly discussion group called “Poetry of Presence.”
Even the added sessions are apparently not enough; try to sign up for them at Weehawken Arts’ website and you get the same old message: “We’re sorry, but this Class is full.” You get the feeling her fans would have Wahtola-Trommer, a multi-award-winning poet in her own right, reading and teaching around the clock, if they could (maybe they’d give her a break for, I don’t know, a nibble of a scone and a sip of tea).
“It’s gangbusters!” Trommer said of her classes’ popularity. “I’m not too surprised that people are turning to poetry. It’s a language of connection — and people are craving that right now. Poems are a bridge between our inner world of feelings and thoughts and questions and the outer world of sensory experience. They don’t necessarily provide answers, but they do help us to meet the world, engage with the moment at hand, to be curious and ask more questions, to wonder.”
“In the poetry classes, we’ve been able to discuss themes of kindness, connection, resilience, showing up, generosity and more. Of course, that means we’re exploring all the opposites too, feelings of disconnection, insecurity, uncertainty, cruelty, loss. Sometimes we talk about form, but mostly we talk about what is happening in our world, and in our lives right now. The poems provide a platform for deep listening, vulnerable sharing and communion.
“Now more than ever reading poems outside my own ethnic group feels very important, and I’ve been making sure that I share poems by a wide variety of authors. Poetry provides a quick way to see into the lives of others, and by sharing diverse voices, we help broaden the conversations across gender, racial and economic divides.”
Poetry-writing classes, though more strenuous, serve as a form of curative in a restless time. “There is something marvelous about the practice — about how it helps us meet the moment with curiosity, helps us pay attention, helps us to engage with difficult emotions such as anger, sorrow or confusion in a very healthy way,” Trommer observed. She recommends two anthologies she’s been teaching from for those who cannot make her classes: “Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection,” edited by James Crews (the first text Trommer was inspired to share during the pandemic) and “Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems,” edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby Wilson.
“I’d been so insistent for years to online teaching,” Trommer said, “but what I love about it is how it allows people from across the country and out of the country to come together. Thrilling! And I’ve been able to have guests from all over the world join us — how exciting!”
(Employing Zoom has also enabled Trommer to easily host visiting guest poets, always a treat for students.)
Still, she looks forward to teaching in person again. Trommer led an online meditation and poetry retreat a few weeks ago, “and when we meditated, we all turned off our microphones and it was totally silent. And anyone who has been in a meditation with other humans knows that is really strange,” she said. “Usually there are coughs and throat clearings and rustlings and someone in the corner snoring. And I missed it. I missed the humanity of it. I miss hugging. I missed being able to catch all the students’ nonverbal cues. I miss being in person with poetry groups. I do.”
She plans to teach more poetry classes this summer through Weehawken, Ah Haa and Shyft, out of Denver. Follow along at wordwoman.com.
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