M.M. Wittle on the Rosemont Writer’s Retreat

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At the noon Philadelphia Stories Writer’s and Readers Series, I met J.C. Todd. This was not the first time I was around Todd; however, it was the first time I introduced myself and had a one on one conversation with the poet.

The noon reading was very intimate. Carla Spataro asked J.C. Todd some questions about her writing process and poetry. Todd read some poems from her book, What Space This Body. The floor was opened for the audience to ask questions.

My hand went up first. Because of my fascination with the creative nonfiction genre, I was curious how this poet saw the bridge most poets cross in order to walk in the land of creative nonfiction. Todd admitted prose was not her medium; however, her journals were written in prose. I was then curious how Todd saw the distinction between prose and poetry. Prose was complete thoughts while poetry was fragmented images. Poetry was a feeling and prose explains the feeling.

Another person asked about rejection and how Todd handled the letters. In response, Todd shared some insight from Rita Dove. Pieces of work, when polished to where the author feels is done, should be treated like house guests. When the poem or story comes back from being rejected, it should stay in your house for only a day. You may feed it; give it a warm bed to sleep in at night and in the morning send it on its way. I wish I could say those thoughts were mine, but I am paraphrasing Todd’s explanation of Rita Dove’s take on rejection. However, I believe it was wonderfully stated it should be shared and re-shared.

After the talk, we all sat down to lunch. I gravitated towards Todd during the meal. I didn’t attack her; I let her eat a few bites of her meal. We talked about my own wiring and I was honored she recalled my piece, “The Hope Chest” from a reading I was in at Rosemont in March. Todd reveled how the piece infected her and how she saw many more ways to put the piece in different genres such as a one act play.

There was more.

I swore off poetry. I’ve discussed many times how I felt I outgrew the genre. However, after listening to Todd’s poems and talking with her, I felt like I might have to reinvestigate my first writing genre. Todd said this to me, “You are a writer. You are a creative being. Limiting yourself to one genre is taking away what draws you to creativity to being with.”

She’s right. For so long, I assumed one had to be in one genre and make a name or cut out one’s slice of that niche. But doing that limits what a writer can do and betrays the purpose of being a creative spirit. Writers write and they use whatever means and whatever genre they need to get the idea across.

How freeing and how profound that idea is to me!

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