Looking with Lia Purpura

Many years ago, I took a Chautauqua workshop with poet Margaret Gibson.  She told me that I needed to practice looking, and that in doing so, my poetry would be stronger.

I was a novice writer, and I didn’t understand her advice.  Looking?  Of course, I knew how to look.  Afterall, my poetry was about the working-class world.  I had grown up in that world.  I had spent my whole life Looking.

It’s been many years since that workshop and I have to admit that the process of learning how to look has been a slow one — and even now, I realize that it’s not an action that comes easily.

Essayist and Poet Lia Purpura, at yesterday’s Earth’s Eye Festival, encouraged us to practice looking.  The day was divided into two parts: field work at the lovely Presque Isle in Erie, PA and a craft talk by Purpura.  On the trail, Purpura told us that writing about nature is a tricky act to accomplish: we often enter nature wanting the unexpected or expecting great life revelations, and these two things can happen, but we have to work to make them happen.  I admit that I grew up in the rural world so I always want the unexpected to happen.  Sometimes, I get it.  I see a muskrat in the Connewango Creek right in the middle of town or a Barred owl in the middle of the day (no bad omens here — I have learned that Barred Owls are known for showing up in daylight) or a Black Bear crossing in front of me on a main highway.  Other times, Purpura is right — I have to work a bit harder.   And I also have to work at making leaps into life revelations.

All in all, it was a great day — made especially so because the rain held out until the end of the day, so we didn’t have to scamper off the trails to find shelter from any storm bursts.  Especially great?  In my journal, I have two new starts to prose pieces.  I’m not sure where they will go, but I know they will go somewhere!


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