TEDx Macatawa: The Perfectly Imperfect

A TEDx Talk.

I was asked to give a TEDx Talk.

These talks bring new ideas to the world, or at least ideas that have been overlooked. The last time I had a new idea, it was defeated in a faculty meeting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a new idea. Actually it was a very old idea, an ancient idea, and one I’ve continued to promote through retirement and onward. So, what new idea could I come up with? I came up with a chair. TED talkers walk around the stage. I walk my dog, or follow as he sniffs,  a rather uncoordinated, random walk. I am quite good at sitting. It’s how I’ve always done my best work.

TEDx and TED Talks are stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. I’m very uncomfortable with stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. When I taught at a nearby college, people were constantly pursuing excellence. Like Charlie our dog doing his sniffing. “There! Nope…. Maybe over There! Nope.”

I never had any idea what in this or any world Excellence was or looked, sounded, tasted or smelled like. But everyone  seemed to know it was there, somewhere. I knew that it was used in conversation: “Like, ya know, that’s excellllent!”

Really? Excellent? When I asked, I was told it meant “doing or making a thing better than most everyone and everything else.” At what cost? And how do you know when you’ve arrived? Merely by measurement?

Only that can be excellent which can be measured? There is a reason standards have lowered from reaching for wisdom or inspiration to spelling all the words correctly. Reaching for perfect measures is the new black.

Not being much of a fan of it, what could I talk about if I couldn’t talk about excellence? This gnawed my bones for a long time before it came: I would talk unexcellently about other things worth pursuing. Or I chose to state the positive: I would suggest that a thing is worth doing even if you don’t do it well.

In fact, most things worth doing have more important reasons for doing them than doing them well. And so I sat in my chair, promoting The Perfectly Imperfect*

I TEDx Talked about the virtue of not focusing on doing things well, or even doing them well at all.

And my microphone fell off my ear.

And I went 34 seconds past my allotted time.

And my chair squeaked.

*The title came from our daughter, who at age 7 said to me when I hung holiday lights up one side of our front door, across the top, and 1/3 of the way down the other side, “Daddy! Let’s leave them up this way. They are perfectly imperfect.”

Dombrowski

 

It’s the day after reading with my former student Chris Dombrowski at Horizon Books in Traverse City. I asked Chris to read first because, as I told the audience, “I wanted Chris to read first, because then you might be thinking what an amazing teacher I am. If I read first, after Chris, you would be thinking, “Well, he most certainly must have learned in spite of his professor.”

On April 3, at the former Literary Life building, 758 Wealthy in Grand Rapids,  I’ll get to give another reading with Chris Dombrowski. Chris will be reading from his new collection, Earth Again, from Wayne State University Press. I’ll be reading a few poems from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, also from Wayne. Yes, Chris and I have collections out at the very same time from the very same press.

Okay, yeah, for nearly 40 years I’ve given readings. What’s another one? As William Stafford said in reply to one of my students asking him if he was nervous before a reading, “Oh no. Not at all… Resigned.” Well, with these readings, I am nervous and joyful because Chris is a former student. I wonder if, unless you are a teacher, you can fully feel, understand, what it means to be up there reading with someone who was 18 when you first met in a classroom. Teachers are fond of saying that they learn more from their students than their students learn from them.

What did I learn from Chris? I learned how to work with Chris. When he came to the college he was already knowledgeable about the artistry of composing a poem. He already knew the work of a remarkable range of poets. What was there for me to offer him? I brooded. And then I realized that, of course, the best thing I could do was stay out of his way, be an attentive reader for him, and kick him back on track if he started being unknowingly disloyal to his vision.

So can you imagine what it was like for me to open this year’s catalogue from the Press and see on facing pages Chris’s collection and mine. I wonder if there is any teacher out there who has had this happen? If you know, let me know.

Several times with the launch of our books, Chris and I will share the podium. I won’t go sappy here about this (too late?), but I feel as sappy as any proud “Uncle Lou.”

One other time I was invited by a former student to read with her. Sally Smits, who was teaching at the Indiana University campus in South Bend asked me to “share the stage.”  I had no idea how much it would come to mean to me. Quite a lot, it turns out.

March 3 Workshop News

Jack has finished his preparation for the Learning from Some Masters Workshop on March 3, and thought the following description might help you know more clearly what we’ll be doing.  And yes, there are still openings.

We will begin with you recording an important memory or you can bring a poem about a memory. I’ll then show how you work with that memory in other ways than narrating it. We will take what you have written see what happens, how it is enriched, how even more discoveries and realizations can come for you by applying the following: Personal Mythology, Catalogs, Personal History, Sestina, Pantoum, Found works, Collage, Address, Observation and Reflection, Surreal imagination, Persona, etc.

The poets whose works we will be working with include Gerald Stern, Nancy Willard, Linda Pastan, Lynn Powell, Li-Young Lee, Naomi Shihab Nye, Deborah Digges, Billy Collins, Christine Rhein, Mark Doty, Richard Jones, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Charles Simic, Conrad Hilberry, Teresa Scollan, and Bob Hicok.

Contact Collette for help with registration, directions to the workshop location, and all that good stuff.

Spring 2012 Workshops

We are finally getting the word out about Jack’s spring workshops. We are mid-move from the lovely old monastery to a lovely new place in Douglas, Michigan, but this does not stop the wheels of high poetry from spinning!

Check in on his Readings and Workshops Page, to catch the details, but the upshot is this: There is a new Learning From Some Masters workshop, with all new Masters selected, SOON. March 3 to be exact. Signup deadline is upon us and there are still some seats available for this always popular workshop. You read, you notice, you gather new skills. All in a lovely Lake Michigan setting. What could be better?

The really new news this year is Jack’s One-on-One sessions. A collection of offerings that will give you the individual attention you may want or need or prefer. Do read on for details about this offering, and Contact Jack if individual help is what you need.

Hope your winter is wintery enough or spring is springy enough. More details on the move when we’ve completed it, long about April.

 

Workshops Updated!!

We’ve been lax on updating the Workshops page. But it is all shiny and new and updated and correct. As always, more detailed descriptions of all of these workshops, along with pricing and registration deadlines are available by writing to Colette at comewritewithme@gmail.com.

Special note: The poetry workshop for absolute newbies is running October 8, and word has it a few seats are opened up there, so grab them while they are hot.

Two new workshops: One a get-away day for writers who never find the time. Just a day on the beach, writing your heart out. You will be offered writing prompts, if you want them, food, sustenance, and lots of lovely seats to choose from.  The other is a day-long book-making workshop for writers. Learn to make three book forms you can use to give to your favorite writer, or to hold your own writing.

Look on this page, and then contact Colette to learn more and grab your seat!

April 27 Workshops in Traverse City with Anne-Marie Oomen and Keith Taylor

Flyer Repost!

Wayne State University Press and the National Writers Series Present Writing classes with Keith Taylor, Anne-Marie Oomen and Jack Ridl:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 7 PM

Northwestern Michigan College University Center

Buy tickets at treatickets.com.

The National Writers Series is excited to collaborate with Wayne Sate University Press to highlight authors in the award-winning Made in Michigan Writers Series. These Master Classes offer a unique opportunity for writers and readers alike to come together in an intimate gathering to learn from some of the best. The ticket price of $20 includes a copy of the presenter’s book.

Following registration (please allow 1-2 days for processing), you may pick up your book at Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City before the start of the class.

Jack Ridl “Learning from Some Masters”

This class will take a close look at some contemporary poets, noticing what in particular distinguishes their work and applying what we notice to our own poems. This class should help writers to discover how their voices, techniques, and visions can enrich and expand our writing, our reading, and our days. Bring some of your own poems and/or drafts along with something to write on and write with. Laptop computers are welcomed, too. Some of the poets that will be examined are Mary Ruefle, Jeff Gundy, William Stafford, Li-Young Lee, Linda Pastan, Lucille Clifton, Nancy Willard, Russell Edson, and Naomi Shihab Nye.

Keith Taylor “13 Lines or Less”

This is a workshop on the short poem, 13 lines or less. Taylor will give examples, and try to discover with the attendees how these poems work. Some will be image based, like Japanese haiku, but others will contain little narratives. Still others will work more obliquely, by a process of association. This class will also be a great opportunity for the attendees to have their own poetry looked at. (Poems should be sent ahead of class date, although not a requirement. Contact information will be provided upon signing up for the class).

Anne-Marie Oomen “Travel/Place/Spirit: An Exploration of the Travel Essay”

Using some models from An American Map (and others), Anne-Marie will explore the essay of travel as a way of entering land-scapes of both place and spirit. She will provide exercises that explore the “strange land” but also explore the “stranger” in that land. The focus will be to discover meaning for the found place by also exploring the interior landscape of the traveler.

The National Writers Series is a year-round book festival in Traverse City that brings together some of the brightest celebrities of the literary world to Northern Michigan.

Quick Update

Sorry for the short notice. The secretary has scattered her brains. Let’s blame it on living under the relentless glow of the poetic presence. It fries synapses, people. Couple of readings coming up. Provided we can bank down Ridl’s fever enough to prop him behind a podium…

February 23, 2011 DePaul University, 6 pm, Rosati Room, 300 John T. Richardson Library.

March 3, French Laundry, Fenton, Michigan, 6:30 to 9pm, Jack and David James in the Mid-Winter Poetry Duel. Reservations required, $35 per person.

 

2011 Workshops!

When I retired I adopted and adapted what my father said when he stepped down from coaching: “When you stop coaching, don’t go back to the gym.”

Also when I retired I heard over and over, “Aren’t you going to miss your students?” I would reply, “I always miss my students. They were forever leaving.”

I’ve made a concerted effort not to “go back to the gym.” And I have had the remarkable good fortune to find a whole new group of people to be with as we gather around poems. Unlike college students whose experience lies mostly ahead of them, this is a group of people who have had years of experiences to draw from for their reflections and their writing. How did this happen? Because of Colette DeNooyer who wandered into my life with an offer to conduct poetry workshops at her stunningly located home along Lake Michigan. Colette has, with her good grace and huge heart, run everything for me: registration, set-up, email contacts, great coffee, lunches, snacks, even overnight accommodations for those from some distance who want to attend. I simply show up.

At first I thought, “This will be nice, a workshop maybe once every couple years.” Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a group of warm-hearted, intelligent, sensitive, imaginative, culturally varied, curious souls who have returned time and again for the good times that they have created for one another. What I thought might be a one time or two-time occasion has now developed into its third year and includes a variety of workshops. I’ll list the ones for the coming year, and if you are interested, all you need to do is email Colette at cvdenooyer@gmail.com

Here’s the 2011 season:

1. “Landscapes of Poetry”: This workshop which focuses on poems written by members of the group, is already full, but there is a waiting list that you could sign up for. It meets five times: June 23, July 21,
August 18, September 29, and October 20 and usually holds a “reunion,” often in February.

2. “Learning from Some Masters”:  In this session we look at 6-8 poets’ works and learn from each. The participants try out adapting what they’ve learned from each poet to a poem or poems of their own. It’s a good workshop for those who want to discover some contemporary poets, learn about how they create their poems, and want to enrich their own poems.
It meets all day on Saturday, March 5.  Lunch is provided!

3. “Everything You Wanted to Know about Poetry But Were Afraid to Ask”: The workshop painlessly enables the participants to learn about and work with the various elements that go into creating a poem, such things as line, image, sound, line break, structure, rhythm, tone, voice, openings, closings, titles, and some of the ways used to lead one into the process of composing itself. It’s fun. Some have even taken it more than once. It is designed for those who have already been writing and for those who have been wanting to write.
This one is offered two times a year, each time on a Saturday, all day. The dates are January 22 and October 8. Lunch is provided!

4. Re-Visioning as Re-Vision: This workshop focuses on how to go back to what you have written to see what you might also do with the material. It is not about polishing or editing. It emphasizes the process one plays with, and play is the operative word here, before applying any editing or polishing. We take something we’ve already drafted and play with a variety of options, alternative ways to apply line, structure, image, openings, closings, titles, tones, you name it. We see what happens when!!!! It’s maddening fun. This workshop is offered on Saturday April 30. Lunch is provided!

I would love to get to be with you at one or more of these!!! Feel free to contact me with any questions. It’d be great to lure you to this beautiful setting with great good people.