Keeping the poets civil
For Christine Potter, the online workshop Gazebo is a challenge and a labor of love.
Published: November 28, 2006
Christine Potter doesn't remember how long she's been head moderator at the Gazebo. Members often call the online workshop "The Shark Tank." Alternatively, they abbreviate the name to "Gaz." Likewise, everyone shortens "Christine" to "Chris."
The retired creative writing teacher, Christine Potter is currently planning events to promote her new book, Zero Degrees at First Light (David Robert Books, 2006).
"I couldn't tell you how many years," she says in an e-mail, when asked how long. "Terese Coe and I were trying to figure that out when I was reading with her down in Manhattan, and we both ended up scratching our heads."
Regardless of time served, Potter capably oversees the enduring writing community hosted by the Alsop Review. AR is a literary site featuring poetry, prose, criticism and book reviews. Trustees include authors like Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. The site, named for the president Jaimes Alsop, has been online since 1995.
Gaz provides message boards for critiquing poetry, posting announcements and engaging in debate about theory. There's an active prose board as well, but the poetry is what the workshop is widely known for. Members must register to participate.
Poets who have workshopped here have seen their work go on to broadcasts on National Public Radio, publication in magazines such as North American Review, and inclusion in collections such as the Poetry Daily Anthology. A number of past and present members have published books through traditionally run small presses.
There's a feature at Gaz, The Wall, where members' accomplishments are listed.
What makes the workshop special rests on a diehard dedication to taking poetry seriously, on a level a member once described "as serious as brain surgery."
Potter isn't immune from critiques fired at point-blank range. During a phone interview, she describes the members as supportive. "But if you post something weak, people will let you know it. Even my own work." She recalls a poem she wrote about Emily Dickinson's little sleigh bed. She'd actually seen it when she toured the poet's home and was profoundly moved. She posted the poem at Gaz for feedback. "They hammered me," she says wryly.
The retired creative writing teacher is currently planning events to promote her new book, Zero Degrees at First Light (David Robert Books, 2006). "I still critique three or four poems every day," she says.
Gaz will do that to a person. It's addicting, working so closely with poetry, gaining impressions from others about your own work and offering your impressions of theirs. "We have dustups from time to time," Potter notes. But she says there's a good way to "disembowel a poem." And there's never a dull moment, partly because of the personalities belonging to the 700+ members at Gaz. One member was recently a contestant on the television game show Jeopardy!.
The poetry posted is dominated by free verse, but formal poets post there too. David Gwilym Anthony, author of two books whose work includes sonnets, villanelles, triolets and ballads, is an active member.
The diversity tends to spread ideas and form to poets who might not otherwise try something different. One of the poems in Potter's new book, "On the Closing of Ichi-Riki," is a superbly crafted sonnet about the closing of her favorite sushi bar. She says she went there for 20 years, "every bad date and every good date and most birthdays." The poem takes the speaker from high school boyfriends to the present, somehow managing to evoke a sense of loss in a couplet that ends with the phrase "raw fish":
Now I can order toro without guilt
and easily afford to pay the bill,
this restaurant's closing and my youth is spilt.
Epiphany at last; I feel its chill:
time's passage is the most expensive dish,
a truth in life and love--and in raw fish.
Despite the fact that she's retired from teaching at a public school, Potter has plenty to keep her busy. She's a staff member at WDFH-FM radio in Ossining, N.Y. She's excited about upcoming readings and events for her book.
Cover artist Nancy Quaglia created a poster from the cover art she designed. Some places, such as Abigail Rose in nearby Piermont, N.Y., are selling the book in a package with the poster. Otherwise, Potter's collection is available at online retail stores and at the publisher's site, davidrobertbooks.com.
Potter is very enthusiastic about her publisher, Kevin Walzer, whose Word Press owns the David Robert Books imprint. "He rocks," she says.
Some of Potter's poems were inspired by the natural areas near her home in suburban New York City. She lives on a creek and says the night herons in particular are interesting. Her new collection features a variety of styles and forms, with an underlying musical intonation to the poems.
Meanwhile, she plans to continue at Gazebo. She'll workshop her own poetry at Gaz where, she says, as head moderator she'll "keep people from fighting with each other."
It's all part of insuring The Shark Tank stays civil--in the best interests of those who take poetry as seriously as brain surgery.
--Nov. 28, 2006
Kay B. Day is a poet and freelance correspondent living in Jacksonville, Fla. Her articles and poems appear in The Christian Science Monitor and The Florida Times Union. She is a stringer for UPI. Her collection A Poetry Break won several awards, including top poetry book from the Florida Writers' Association. Web: www.kayday.com.
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--Posted Nov. 28, 2006