Finding your writing kin

Laura Wetherington interviews fellow poetry teacher Wende Crow

Wende Crow grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where she began writing creatively as a teen. In college, she studied fiction but switched to poetry after a visionary experience with a sonnet exercise. The resulting poem was nine lines instead of fourteen, but a poet was born.

Poetry took her to New York, where she did her MFA at the New School. Teaching English as a Foreign Language took her to Busan and Seoul, Korea; to Tennessee; and back home to Atlanta. Her love for poetry and teaching brought her to the International Writers’ Collective in 2021. She now lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, close to where her story began. 

Wende teaches Level I  and Level II Poetry.

 

Do you have a routine or ritual when it comes to your own writing life? 

I have been keeping a notebook for many, many years. Though I’m not always consistent, I try to at least sit with my notebook every single morning and write something, if for no other reason than to entertain myself. I also bore myself sometimes, but the point is the practice, keeping the pen moving. During the summer, which here in Atlanta runs from March to October, I sit on my front porch overlooking my native plant garden busy with birds and bugs and butterflies. My little dog Yoda is always with me, and when he’s content in my lap, I use him as a desk and he loves it.  

I find writing to be a lot like prayer and meditation in that I can more frequently achieve a level of focus and openness in the company of others than I can alone. I need a community to keep me writing and accountable. I strongly encourage all of my students to find or form their own communities to practice between classes. 

 

How would you describe your style as a teacher?

To foster a supportive environment, I try to be candid about my own challenges. For example, I always share that in school I absolutely hated being called on, and I rarely spoke up in class until the second year of grad school. I want the writers in my class to focus on their unique responses to the readings and share in whatever form feels comfortable, even if it’s in the chat or in the forum instead of during class. All writers have something to say, but, not surprisingly, some prefer to express themselves in writing.

 

What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?

You will write a lot of bad poems and that’s okay. Keep them. Then go back to them later for evidence of how much you’ve improved. Keep messing up the word, the line, the punctuation, the poem. That’s how you get better.

 

What’s special about IWC?

Here I go again about community! But it’s an important element of the workshops — finding your writing kin and continuing to share work and feedback. Sharing your writing can make you feel so vulnerable, and it’s wonderful to see students support each other and keep up a group practice between and even beyond classes. I’m impressed with how often these connections are made in just eight weeks. 

I also love the focus on writing techniques, especially having come up through classes and workshops where the feedback is so often on content, even when the exercise was to write a sonnet or a villanelle. Teaching with the IWC has helped me grow as a teacher and a writer, and it’s amazing what our students accomplish when they focus on technique, for example, varying their figures of sound or using white space more intentionally. I especially love teaching haiku because we get to practice concrete imagery, grounding, and concision all at once. 

 

Who has greatly influenced your writing that you think might not be apparent by reading it?

I have long been captivated by the works of philosopher Simone Weil. She had some beautiful ideas and some very wild ones, but she wrote about both with the heart to match her astonishing intelligence. She never dabbled in anything – she embraced both physical and intellectual extremes, but she always wrote about her experiences and ideas in this resplendent poetic prose. I first read her over twenty years ago, and I still go back to her book Gravity and Grace every few years and reread it to refresh the inspiration I found all those years ago.

 

Is there a question that you wish I had asked you?

Yes! What do you want to improve about your writing? I want to work on what I call the business side of it, submitting and publishing my work. I find the process pretty tedious and would much rather be writing poems than cover letters and bios. I’ve been trying to overcome this by scheduling submission days a couple of times a month where instead of writing, I send out poems to ten magazines. 

 

Laura Wetherington teaches with the International Writers’ Collective.

 

16 April 2024

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