aTi Scholarship Report

Stockton University 2015

by Jackie Huster

Orientation and Dinner at Stockton University

On Sunday, July 26, 2015 the orientation dinner was held at Stockton University for aTi week. Dinner was delicious. I met with old friends and had the pleasure of meeting some new friends. We had a lively table as we listened to Jenifer Simon and Michele Renaud welcome us to Artist Teacher Institute week at Stockton University. I saw Peter Murphy, the instructor for the class and caught up with him.
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Day 1 July 27, 2015

My class was Advancing the Poem: Finding your Authentic Voice with Peter Murphy. Peter started the class with everyone sharing and introducing themselves. Including Peter, there were seven of us in the class. Small number but in a writing class, small often works well. I knew most of the group already except for two ladies who turned out to be delightful. Our whole group clicked immediately and the dynamics contributed to the flow of creativity.

Peter gave us a free write entitled, "Who I am not". That was quite a revealing free write for me. I had to really stop, think, and ponder what I wanted to say. I ended up with almost a whole page of writing that I can use for fodder down the road. We often like to think of who we are and this was a nice twist by looking at who we are not.

We discussed poetry and tried to define it. I've come to the conclusion that poetry cannot be truly defined because there are so many meanings that can apply. Poetry is also personal and therefore, means something different to each person. Poetry is about feelings and thoughts and everyone is unique. For me, that is the beauty of poetry. Poetry is also a vehicle for me to explore, discuss, and analyze varying emotions and situations.

Peter gave us a packet of poems and we read several of the poems aloud and discussed their meanings, the sounds, and the themes.I enjoyed the variety of poems and poets that Peter chose. Some of them I knew, but many were new. Peter exposes us to so many types of poems and poets. I like looking them up and reading more of their work to see a clearer picture of who they are and not judge them by only one poem.

We were paired with a classmate and I knew before Peter said it who would be my partner. We got to know one another and we hit it off famously and seemed to have much in common.

We worked on prompt #1- Write about a time you doubted yourself, someone doubted you, or doubt led to a difficult conclusion. Tell it straight. Don't worry about form. Tell a secret, tell a lie and never tell anyone which is which. Try to surprise yourself. This first prompt actually turned out to be one of my "polished" poems that I read on the last day for the presentation. The poem went through a number of revisions after working with my classmates and Peter. It was finally titled, "The Decision". I enjoy getting critical feedback.

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Day 2 - July 28, 2015

Today we had an interesting free write. It was called "Sweat" and that had to be in our free write. When I do a free write, I usually write a poem. Not everyone does that; many just write and then later craft a poem. My brain doesn't work like that. I actually came out with a nice start for a poem where sweat was just a byproduct. The second free write had to do with "shop" and I something told me to turn the word into wood shop. It ended up being a poem about a father hanging himself in the wood shop. By no means is it complete but I see it as a work in progress poem. We also discussed our writing and everyone's comments and feedback was spot on.

We also had Prompt #2 - Begin a poem about work with a line or two of dialogue. Discover something you didn't know about work . . .about yourself. Tell a secret, tell a lie and never tell anyone which is which. This was a cool prompt by including dialogue. I don't often employ that technique but I think I'd like to incorporate more dialogue into my poetry. I chose to write a poem about an active shooter drill that we do at school. This prompt revealed to me how deeply this kind of drill affects me.

We also had a feedback session. In a feedback session, each poet reads the draft of their poem twice and then sits quietly while each member speaks about what they like, not like, and changes that could perhaps enhance the poem. The poets in my group were insightful and completely on target with their suggestions.

At the end of the day, Peter invited all of us to take a walk to Lake Fred. Sherrie and I wanted to go because we had never visited it or even heard about it. It was a short walk and it was lovely. I took some pictures which are shown below.

Day 3 - July 29, 2015

Field Trip! On this day we carpooled and took a field trip to Atlantic City. We went to Boardwalk Hall to tour the largest pipe organ in the world. What a unique trip. There was so much history in that building. We had a guided tour throughout the entire building. At the end of the tour we were treated to a concert from the organist. Then it was off to ice cream and then Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum on the boardwalk. Peter gave us little notepads to record things we saw and experienced. Some weird items in the museum; some totally unbelievable.

Day 4 - July 30, 2015

Today's prompt played off our field trip to Ripley's Believe It or Not. Prompt #6 - Write about your FREAKISHNESS. What's miserable about it? What's lovely? Include details and/or language from our tour of Ripley's? Experiment with form. Try something different. Tell a secret, tell a lie and never tell anyone which is which. I wrote several versions of this poem. This one was rough to write; I just wasn't feeling it. What I did write was about a fear that I have that I think reflects my freakishness. It ended up like this:

In the dark

I'm an oddity
like the freaks at Ripley's.
Where you hear
ordinary sounds
I hear the wailing of wild dogs,
heavy breathing real
and imagined.
The sounds of footsteps
in the darkened hallway
keeps me awake.
Maybe it's an escaped convict
who has broken in
bound to kill me as I sleep.
Unless you're afraid
of being alone
in the dark,
you'll never understand me.
A grown woman
who has never
spent a night alone
In the dark.
It's the house settling
says my husband.
Go to sleep.

It's not finished, I still need to revise it further. Sometimes it takes quite a few revisions and edits to get it just right. It's all about letting poem take shape.
We also took a mini field trip to Stockton's gallery and had another feedback session. It was a full day but satisfying.

Day 5 - July 31, 2015

Peter started the day with individual prompts for us to free write. This was cool. He tailored the free write to be unique to each of us. My prompt was to write a love letter to pain. Peter knew I was struggling with a recent diagnosis that involves chronic pain. I quickly wrote a poem in letter format that I titled My Dearest Pain and I received some valuable feedback from one of my classmates who is excellent with critique. This poem is a keeper for me and I will work to revise this, several times if necessary. This is the 3rd revision below:

My Dearest Pain,
I show know better.
You've used me before
Tossed me about
like a boat in the North Sea.
You force me to suffer.
I can't take it
screams my arthritic joints,
yet I sign up for more.
You trample on my dreams.
I linger by your side.
I bow to your wishes,
my protests
weak and feeble,
not attempts to cut
you loose, strike out
on my own.
What am I without you,
my Dearest Pain?

Today we also had another feedback session. We each read our poem several times and then sit quietly while our classmates comment on our draft. My classmates are wonderful poets each with their own special talents. I truly valued what everyone had to say. Giving feedback doesn't mean that the poet necessarily takes all the suggestions but they're there for the taking. Sometimes, the feedback transforms the poem and sometimes it's best to only use some of the comments. Peter does a fantastic job with feedback and I respect his wisdom and experience. I don't take every word as gospel but I do write it all done, mull it over and go from there.

We also practiced quite a bit for the last day before the closing activities. Peter wanted us to see the room where we would recite our poems and get a feel for the room and the process. We each picked two poems and they were poems that we received feedback on, cleaned up and readied them for the rest of the aTi participants to hear. We practiced our timing as well as our loudness. We had to make sure our voices could be heard throughout the room. There is always a little jittery feeling getting ready to perform in public.

Day 6 - August 1, 2015

The big day! We spent the morning practicing by reading aloud, trying to get everything just right for the afternoon. The ending problem would begin at 1:00,right after lunch. I was confident I could share my poems with all the aTi participants but I still was a tad nervous. My group talked about how much we enjoyed working together and how we felt that everyone worked well together. Our comfort level with each other showed a level of trust that bespoke of people who had known each other for a long time. We all began Facebook friends and hopefully we will meet again at aTi or another writing workshop.

We also did some free writing this morning. The free write had to address "making something". Below is the result of my free write. It is untitled as yet. It is by no means done and needs extensive work.

Whenever you make
you share a piece
of yourself. Imagine
tiny atoms of your being
that transfer to your creation.
Focus on what
that says about
our connectivity to the world.
Man or woman -
making something,
a house, a poem,
a new life. It's a genesis-
a form of birth.
It's a primordial dance
re-enacted over and over.
This cyclical rotation
is infinite.
Cousins to the sun,
the moon,
we are one in our
desire to make-
My presentation is below. I was particularly proud of "Sometimes" because I'm a dreamer and this was a revealing poem and speaks to how I often feel. This poem was heavily revised and edited. The original title was "The Appointment" but after all the cutting, "Sometimes" fit better. The other poem is titled, "The Decision".
aTi - Stockton University 2015
My aTi experience was exceptional and I was so lucky to have the experience. I learned so much about poetry, myself, interacting with others, and trust. Thank you for the opportunity to attend aTi at Stockton University. I will utilize all that I learned with my students.