caution, turns ahead

by Cindy Veach

For the past three Massachusetts Poetry Festivals, poet Dawn Paul and I have led workshops dedicated to various parts of the poem. In 2014 we covered titles (Titles that Work). In 2015 we focused on endings (When is Enough?). And for the 2016 Mass Poetry Festival we turned our attention to the Volta or turn – a powerful poetic technique that creates dimension and tension and moves a poem from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Volta-cize Your Turn was a fast paced workshop designed to generate active participation and produce work. The session kicked off with a short introduction on the Volta including some key words that can signal the turn in a poem (But, And then, Yet, Still, I wanted to tell you, etc.).  

And then, workshop participants contributed by identifying the turn, or turns, in a diverse group of poems ranging from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet, “Love is Not All” to “surely I am able to write poems” from Mercy by Lucille Clifton, to poems by festival headliners Ada Limón (“How to Triumph Like a Girl”) and Ocean Vuong (“A Little Closer to the Edge”).

But, the real fun began when workshop participants were invited to put a swerve in their own verse with the following prompt.

Ready to put some swerve in your verse?

In this prompt you will write a poem in two parts and then combine them with a turn of phrase that will create the narrative shift or Volta. Part 1 and Part 2 should have nothing to do with one another. Part 2 can be a confession or admission.

Finally, workshop participants shared the poems they had written during the session. Although the consensus was that the prompt was challenging our poet participants turned out some great work including the following poem by Kevin McCarthy.

Salem Makes Me a Tourist

I took my picture today
with Theobold Mathew,
Apostle of Temperance.
He is stone and I am not stone.
I am not stone. I am not stone.
Me? I am a living breathing
throbbing shoot pain fears
loves, dark but funny, just a
guy. Garden variety.
In time, I would love
to be stone – plunk m
down on the boulevard.

Dawn and I are already scheming on which part of the poem we will tackle for the 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Stay tuned and see you in Salem in 2017!

Dawn Paul teaches writing at Montserrat College of Art. She is the author of two novels, The Country of Loneliness and Still River. She was a finalist in The Lindenwood Review’s 2013 Lyric Essay Contest and her prose poem “Outliers” was in the Nassau Review’s 2014 Science Issue. Dawn has an MFA from Goddard College and has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Ragdale Foundation and the Whiteley Center at Friday Harbor Laboratories. She is a frequent performer on the Improbable Places Poetry Tour.

Cindy Veach received an MFA from the University of Oregon.  Her poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Journal, North American Review, Poet Lore, Chicago Review, Prairie Schooner and others. She was a finalist for the Ann Stanford Prize and the recipient of honorable mentions in the Ratner-Ferber-Poet Lore Prize and Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize. Her first full-length collection, Gloved Against Blood, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press.