Speaking of words of wisdom from poets, last week I went to one of the Writer’s Studio craft classes, with the poet RW. We were in classroom 3B at the Village Community School. High up along one wall were some big coloured paper birds nests with eggs and $ bills inside them – outside the classroom some pigeons were cooing loudly as if disgruntled to have been separated from their nests. The man sitting next to me was wearing red socks, and there was a tiny dot (a bit bright for blood) on his white shirtsleeve. About half-way through, a tiny sparrow-like lady with a makeup-caked face snuck in and crouched down in between us, trying to be quiet as she rummaged through her handbag for her notebook.
Despite these quirky distractions I caught most of the class. RW’s a small, gentle-looking woman in round glasses, which contrasted wonderfully with her feisty descriptions of her poetry-writing process. She talked about tackling a poem about a painting by “fighting” with the painting (to avoid slipping into the trap of simply describing or eulogizing it). She talked of “cannibalizing” others’ poems – in particular the ancient Greeks’, which she reads in the original Greek – of her “jacknife” poems that are “short, sharp and just a little dangerous”, and of how war emerged as a theme of her latest anthology, both war in the geopolitical sense and wars that get played out between bedroom walls.
Oh and she gave a great compost heap analogy. She’ll write a poem, or the first few drafts of a poem. Then she’ll leave it to compost for a while. Then she’ll go back, lift up the compost bin lid and see how it’s doing. If it’s not ready for a re-write, she’ll ruffle and rake the compost about, put the lid back on, and come back a few days later. No wonder it takes her on average nine years to complete an anthology. But from the poems she read at that class, it’s worth the wait. She has a refreshing disregard for the pressures of the publishing industry, which expects prominent authors to churn out a new book every few years. “All I care about is the poems,” she said with a grin.
JB and I found ourselves in the top floor of ABC Carpet and Home one evening last week, in a lushly furnished living room-type area brimming with well-turned out New York women. (They were not over-dressed but all looked like a certain amount of care and attention had gone into their smart-casual outfits). They sat on the stylishly-upholstered sofas and chairs clutching glasses of wine. Late arrivals, including us, sat on the floor on cushions. A scene from a modern-day Jane Austen novel.
The occasion was a meeting of the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs – the women speaking included Patti Carpenter, Founder of Carpenter + Co, Amy Chender, VP of Social Responsibility at ABC Home and Rebecca Kousky who at the age of 24 founded Nest, a microfinance non-profit that helps women create arts & crafts businesses. Patti described ways in which sourcing high-end textiles from indigenous women suppliers in Bolivia, Guatemala and elsewhere is a learning process on both sides. Not all of Bloomingdale’s doorstopper of a supplier's manual with questions like "location of fire escape?" applies to women working from their one-room homes, for example. Rebecca talked about the difference between a 'male', linear, business-plan oriented approach to establishing and running a business, and the 'female' approach she used when she set up her company, asking a wide group of friends and contacts for advice and support. The economic downturn, she suggested, was partly a product of too much male, not enough female, approach to doing business. How little things change...that was a point I made in an article I wrote back in 2002 on the World Conference for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.