A Pep Talk from Dorianne Laux

This semester I’ve been in a poetry writing workshop taught by the poet Dorianne Laux. I spent a lot of my poetry class last semester reading, crying, laughing, and drooling over her poetry, so I was super excited to take a class from her. Dorianne is a demanding, no-nonsense kind of teacher and critic, but she’s also insightful and encouraging when it comes to helping us perfect our poems. And every once in a while she gives some mind-blowing talks on life and the importance of poetry. My favorite so far is the one she gave on our first day of class.

It was warm that day, warm enough that the seven or eight of us could have class outside, in the tiny amphitheater carved into a hill on the edge of the green beside the English courtyard. The rough stones were cold underneath my jeans, and the wind kept flapping everyone’s notes into their faces. Dorianne sat down in the middle of the amphitheater and squinted at us through her glasses.

At this point in the semester, I was praying in my head that no one directed any questions at me or asked me to read anything. I kept thinking “This is Dorianne Laux, sitting there ten feet away from me, and she’s going to read my poetry.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh hysterically or throw up.

Dorianne laid it out for us that day – that we were big kids now, and we were going to be writing our asses off, because that’s what big kids do. “Write about anything,” she told us. “Write about your parents and your sex life or your pet cat, for all I care. You can write about the awful things too, if you need to. I give you permission. Write about them over and over again. Write about stuff you know nothing about. Hell, just write!” She laughed and lit up another cigarette.

By this time I was feeling less like throwing up. Dorianne went on to talk about the importance of writing, and of doing something meaningful. I don’t remember all of it. What I do remember is the last couple of sentences of her lecture. “What are you going to do with this one amazing, fantastic life you’ve been given?” she asked. “I mean, are you going to just hang out, or are you going to do something?”

I’m going to write, Dorianne. I’m going to travel, and I’m going to read good books during thunderstorms, and I’m going to kiss my boyfriend in the morning and drink peppermint tea in my chipped white china teacup. And I’m going to write.


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