Red onion, black olive and rosemary foccacia -- one of my favorite recipes, from an Irish cooking class.

Red onion, olive and rosemary foccacia — one of my favorite recipes, from an Irish cooking class.

In late January, I signed up for a month-long online class offered by a poet whose work I admire and whose editing I’m very familiar with. In fact, being a person who has long kept personal notes from editors, I happen to still have three of her colorful, hand-written rejection notes taped one above the other in a poetry-dedicated scrapbook.

Karen Craigo is this writer, and while she no longer edits poetry for the national journal she worked for when I first started sending poems to her, nearly 15 years ago, she remembered me when I found her online in 2016. I’ve since followed her posts and her blog, Better View of the Moon, regularly on social media and knew when I saw she was offering this class that l) I would no doubt get something positive out of it, and 2) I would likely fail at fulfilling anything like daily writing assignments, if that was the expectation.

Both things have proven to be true, but there really were no expectations, which made the experience even better.

Karen’s class, “Fierce Love in Trumpmerica,” was offered ostensibly for those seeking a venue for processing, through writing and contemplation, the events of the day. The common thread as I understood it was that all who signed up would have some desire to use the class’s daily contemplative and creative prompts to better process current events, as well as to generate new work. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that all of the participants were struggling at some level with how to cope with a changed — and changing — political landscape. I know I was, and am.

MARKaren

Personal rejection notices from Karen when she was at Mid-American Review as poetry editor… circa 2003.

There really weren’t any rules. The idea was that everyone would get what they wanted to out of the class. When we signed up, we became members of a secret Facebook group and were given two sets of prompts daily – a creative prompt and a contemplative one.

Like most things, what you get out of an experience is directly proportional to what you put into it. Not everyone wanted to post responses, ideas or work online, so the class wasn’t necessarily interactive other than between participants and the instructor, although a handful of participants did post comments or work at some point during the class. One posted responses almost every day (definitely not me.)

Although the class will soon wind to a close, and I haven’t engaged in it to the level I could have, simply due to, well – the rest of my life — the creative prompts did provide me with fresh entry points for new poems and got my brain working in some different ways. I have six or so poems generated directly as a result of this class that I continue to refine. That’s not a month’s worth of poems, but it is more new work than I would typically generate in such a short time window, and these poems came from a place within me I haven’t previously tapped.

Women's March 2017One poem dealt with inauguration, not just in the Presidential sense but in a coming-of-age sense; one prompted by a “how-to” creative suggestion noted the steps involved in making a particular recipe, against the backdrop of ominous current news; one I wrote after participating in the Gainesville Women’s March in a small gesture of support and as a way, I suppose, of capturing the need I felt to show up that day.

A photo I’ve included above shows focaccia, a type of bread I love to make and learned in a cooking class in Ireland. The “how-to” poem started with steps involved in making that recipe, and writing it also reminded me how much I love food and love to cook, and often turn to cooking as a creative outlet. The truth is that I turn to cooking (and unfortunately, eating) as an escape from uncomfortable emotions at times, but  but at the same time I derive great satisfaction from creating forms of sustenance. Maybe that’s one of the few things we can do when faced with paralyzing anxiety and worry.

Writing this particular poem made me reflect on not just current events (the way the news has of penetrating everything we do, even cooking) but also on the way I use cooking and food in my life. Of course, that was not the contemplative prompt delivered to the class, but it was one I ended up giving myself.

I’m grateful to Karen for sensing a common need and providing this opportunity to think and write as I, like so many others, wrestle with feelings of fear, anger and helplessness. If we can write, we’re not so very helpless, and if we can share difficult emotions in a creative way and be validated in that exchange, we’re stronger for it.