Poetry Salon: An IWC Institution
The Poetry Salon started approximately thirty five years ago under a different name and with a different format. From the beginning The Writers’ Center of Indianapolis, (now The Indiana Writers Center), had a core of people interested in writing poetry and so founded various workshops in poetry, both reading and writing. All of these were of the classic variety where people sat around a table while manuscripts were passed in a circle to everyone in the class. There was usually a teacher or moderator,
(the teacher sometimes knew just a little more than his students) and he/she ran the class by making sure everyone got a chance to read his or her poem(s) along with encouraging commentary and criticism from others in the group. These criticisms were aimed at improving the style and quality of the writing. Of course the quality of the criticism itself depended largely on the sophistication and experience of the group as a whole. There was no attempt to make moral judgments about the content of a poem or to make pronouncements regarding form, rhyme, or lack thereof. What was encouraged was the making of an effective metaphor and the right word choice and also the reading of poetry, both classical and modern so that William Blake or A. E. Housman might be read in one breathe and W. S. Merwin or Wallace Stevens, or Sylvia Plath might be read in the next. If a person had nothing new of their own to contribute at some particular meeting one might read one of his or her favorite poems by someone else and the group could comment upon that.
The Poetry Workshop from which the Poetry Salon derived was run by Kevin Corn and Richard Pflum from a previous program which was started by Thomas Hastings. Under the Korn-Pflum régime it was decided there would be no term limit and that the workshop should continue as long as there was life left in it. Later Korn decided to go back to school to earn his PhD in religious studies. This left Pflum running the show on his own until Rohanna McCormack agreed to join him and help. Over the years Pflum began to feel that a workshop in the old fashioned sense lacked a certain kind of freedom. He thought of the kind of salon that Gertrude Stein had run in Paris after the first World War. This salon was a kind of space where artists of every variety met and enriched each others’ art by conversation and by the exhibiting of their work. He thought that maybe the salon would still have to be primarily about poetry but he might be able to encourage artists in other fields to show up and talk about their work. Alas, this was not to be the case for Pflum soon discovered, that like birds, American artists like to hang out with their own kind. Pflum should have known better for most poets behave in exactly the same way: street poets hang out with street poets, slam poets hang out with slam poets, ethnics with ethnics, academics with academics, and so it goes. What he was able to do with his original idea was to encourage participants to speak more freely about their other interests. To talk tangentially about such diverse subjects as baiting a hook for walleye or chaos theory and Mandelbrot figures, to atonal music of the New Vienna School in the 1930’s, to “Delbert” or “Peanuts”, or even about the detritus in their own everyday lives, when a lone strident voice might pipe up from the table, “ when are we going to start talking about our own poetry?” There is a continuing pressure to run the Salon more like a University Workshop where we must stick to the subject and we all must have equal time to discuss our work. Pflum would like to think that the Salon experience might be more of an aesthetic adventure rather than a place where one merely seeks tools so that one writes better. Writing well might be the bottom line but gaining an outlook so that language becomes one of our principal passions along with those metaphoric procedures that might be used by an author to make up both a singular and imaginative world; worlds in which many questions might be asked. We must understand that complete answers are timeless and unattainable and might only be answered in a provisional way or in the production of more questions, depending on: where we are, when we are, and who we are when we ask. It is the questions which are important and profound. Off the top of his head Pflum has made a list of some example questions which might serve as meager stepping stones an artist might use in trying to make something of real value:
How should we live so that our life maintains the best of what
it means to be human?
How may we walk in a fallow field and see the green?
How shall we look in the night sky and see a living day??
What shall we listen for, on a windy day?
How many times must we repeat our mistakes before we know?
How may we let silence enrich our conversation or our writing?
How shall we live in our favorite season and make all seasons
How shall we know if we should make a garden or a poem?
How may we attain the joy and sadness of pure empathy?
How can we compete and win without any desire for winning?
How shall we know when something within ourselves or our writing is broken?
How may we take the broken parts of ourselves or of our writing
and fuse them back into a whole thing?
How can the ambiguity of language itself enable us to discover
some kind of truth.
How shall we make our life into metaphor and metaphor into our life?
How may we distill the profound out of the merely adequate?
How can we become rich in insight, if not within our own experience?
How may we retain our own singularity and yet be part of the whole?
The Poetry Salon meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month at 8PM somewhere at the The Indiana Writers Center in the Cultural Complex Bldg. behind (North of) the Indianapolis Arts Center. (Listen for raucous laughter and stressed voices in order to find the room.) All are welcome.