A new book by Dawn Potter is for those interested in the language of writing, yes, but since the author and endorsers of the book avoid presenting it as a text-book per se, what The Conversation does, perhaps as inspired work book, is address issues of both writing and close and considered reading. Chapters focus on specific elements of poetic language and structure and offer writing exercises—which include both poetry and personal essays—that link directly to the featured works and the accompanying discussions.
Not only is Dawn the director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, she is a crafts-person, an avid reader, editor by trade, who prepares texts for university presses, and an author of several books that have won awards or been finalists for awards. See the bio below.
The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet by Dawn Potter
Poet and master teacher Dawn Potter shares a dozen craft essays on poems by luminaries such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Hayden. Her detailed yet accessible discussions offer readers, writers, and teachers new approaches for engaging adventurously with both canonical and contemporary poetry.
As she writes in her introduction, “to be a writer, one must be a questing reader, forever seeking closer intimacy with the art; and talking about its details, whether in actual conversation or merely to oneself, can lead a reader down unexpected imaginative paths.”
Praise for Potter’s Other Books
On Same Old Story: “[Her] sustained acts of synthesis and transformation are an astonishing achievement.” —Gray Jacobik
On A Poet’s Sourcebook: Writings about Poetry from the Ancient World to the Present: “What [she] has amassed here is a reflective guidebook, one that covers her journey as a poet and writer through the voice of those poets who have help mold her over the course of her writing life.” —Jason Carney, Poets’ Quarterly
A similar tract of this text is here on our Website where you can purchase the book.
About the book
The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet is a book for readers, writers, and teachers of poetry. It serves as both an introduction and a companion to the pedagogy that Dawn has helped to hone at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. That teaching approach focuses on a holistic approach to teaching and learning about poetry—what she calls the reading-conversation-writing cycle. As Dawn writes in her introduction,
To be a writer, one must be a questing reader, forever seeking closer intimacy with the art; and talking about its details, whether in actual conversation or merely to oneself, can lead a reader down unexpected imaginative paths. The three actions are entwined: one leads to the other, leads to the other, leads to the other. Even if you think of yourself as more reader than poet, more teacher than reader, participating in all elements of the reading-conversation-writing cycle will help you become a more concentrated and flexible practitioner.
An important goal of this book is to coax readers into more adventurous engagements with both canonical and contemporary poetry. Dawn’s intent is to show that it is possible, even necessary, for us to converse with poets who are historically and aesthetically distinct from ourselves and that they have the power to speak to us as individual human beings and fellow artists. At the same time she works to demonstrate the organic relationship between emotional and intellectual reactions to poetry, and she offers writing suggestions that are directly linked to the featured works and the chapter discussions. The book’s first section, “Watching a Poet Make a Poem,” addresses specific elements of poetic language or structure. The second, “Writing about Poets and Poetry,” centers on writing personal literary essays about poetry. Finally, the third, “Meeting a Poem in Its Context,” focuses on the way in which poets choose to combine individual poems into a larger work of art.
Why This Book Matters
One of the greatest strengths of the reading-writing-conversation approach is its applicability at many levels and in many contexts. Dawn’s book should attract a broad range of readers, including high school and college teachers, MFA students, workshop leaders, as well as poets or people who are simply curious about poetry. Carlene Gadapee, a long-time high school English teacher, writes:
I feel quite strongly that this new book will fill a niche that has long been neglected. The book addresses issues of both writing and close and considered reading, and is not to be taken as a “teaching manual” or a handbook, per se. I envision the intended readership as people who (a) are intelligent, (b) wish to improve their own writing and craft, (c) are interested in knowing more about poetry and the craft of how poetry is developed, (d) love reading well-written and engaging narrative, (e) college students in writing courses, (f) writing instructors looking to find a fresh and accessible approach. The list, you see, goes on. In sum, the readership for this manuscript is a thinking person who wants to or loves to engage in poetry and writing. I would hate to see this book relegated to the status oftextbook, although it could (and definitely should) be used as a text for writing courses, but it’s also a thinking text. By this, I mean that a person, not necessarily a student or teacher, could quite easily pick this book up, and get lost in the wondering about poetry, and could begin to see the world and the way we comment on it as intelligent and observant people in new ways. Sadly, this kind of consideration of literature is a rare occasion, in large part due to the thrust for over-testing and teaching only what is needed to get by and get a job. We have forgotten what makes us both human and humane, and I posit that this text can help steer people back to center.
Dawn Potter directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, held each summer at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, New Hampshire. She is the author or editor of seven books of prose and poetry. Same Old Story, her most recent poetry collection, is a nominee for the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry. Her memoir, Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton, won the 2010 Maine Literary Award in Nonfiction; and she has also received grants and fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Writer’s Center, and the Maine Arts Commission. New poems and essays appear in the Beloit Poetry Journal, the Sewanee Review, the Threepenny Review, and many other journals in the United States and abroad.
In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Dawn sings and plays fiddle with the band Doughty Hill. She lives in Harmony, Maine, with photographer Thomas Birtwistle and their two sons. For more about Dawn and her work, visit her blog.