Some Illinois Poets Are Using Community To Refine Their Skills

Apr 27, 2021

Some poets continuously look outside of themselves to enhance their writings. A few northern Illinois poetry groups are feeding this desire by offering workshops.   

Credit https://www.drinkanddraft.org/

Christina Lundberg is a writing instructor, an essayist, and a poet. She said she was looking for a poetry group to join after being a part of a writing group in Naperville. 

“So, when I saw “[The] Drink & Draft Poetry Roadshow,” I loved the quality of the logo. And so, I thought, ‘Hmm, these could be serious writers, they could be,’” she said. “So, I reached out and then when they started going online, I thought ‘this is perfect.’” 

Lundberg started writing as a child and said she wants to continue to get better. She said growth is a part of the process of evolving as a human being and attending poetry workshops helps her advance. 

Eric Bodwell is a teacher and the co-facilitator for the workshop that she attends. He said he was a part of a group called Open Sky Poets, which disbanded, so he reached out to another former member of that group poet Jenn May and suggested creating educational workshops. The idea for this creative space was for poets to receive feedback – and more. 

“We really wanted to have something where we could help people move forward with their writing,” Bodwell suggested, “in addition to the community and the critique, which I think critique is great. But it's not necessarily focused on you know, improving those skills necessarily. Just giving feedback.”   

Bodwell and May did one event at a coffee shop in February 2020. Then COVID-19 hit. The workshops turned virtual, but the label for the traveling workshop remained the same. May outlined the concept behind the name. 

“We really wanted to foster a sense of community,” May explained. “And the best way to do that is to get people to have a beverage together, right? We tend to, to confess the more, we tend to emote more, we tend to share more.” 

Lundberg said she loves the workshops because everyone who attends wants to help each other. Plus, she said, Bodwell’s lesson plan is well thought out.  

“The poetry exercises he brings are relevant, they're engaging, they're playful and fun,” she added. “So, like, even though I've done tons of poetry exercises, I still love the ones that he brings.” 

She stated that participants are kind but honest when they give peer feedback.  

Atrocious Poets is another group that offers workshops. This group is out of Woodstock, Illinois. Jessica Campbell is one of the directors of this group. She said their workshops are great for both beginner and seasoned poets. 

“If you're starting out and you're just trying to write poetry for the first time -- to be in a group of people who've been doing it for a long time -- can give you a different perspective,” she explained, “can really help you feel more comfortable with what you're doing and sharing what you're doing.” 

She said experienced writers can better understand their own work as they teach others.   

May said long time writers can sometimes get stuck and these workshops can help them out of that hole. 

“And I think that another thing for poets that are seasoned or even have published," she said, "is that we are challenging them to not necessarily use writing forms that they're comfortable with.” 

This could include sonnets and other types of structured verses. 

Credit Yvonne Boose

Dawn Zehr is another director of Atrocious Poets. She said the pandemic fostered an important need for creativity, and these workshops support that.     

“And that generative, creative energy can help us not only understand ourselves and our place in the world and what's happening around us,” she explained, “but can help us to move through a variety of emotions.” 

Zehr said, in addition, these workshops have made her appreciate how her writing lands with the audience, and help her understand if what she is trying to communicate is – or isn’t -- coming through. Zehr said they force her to change the direction in which her poem is going to ensure that the audience can connect.  

Lundberg also said if she doesn’t share her poetry with others, she doesn’t know if she’s hitting the mark when delivering her message. She said these workshops help her discover new things and sharpen her craft. 

Both workshops take place virtually due to COVID-19.  Bodwell said his online workshop has captured the attention of  writers from California, England and even Bangladesh. Visit Atrocious Poets or The Drink & Draft Poetry Roadshow Facebook pages for event times. 

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.