Suggestions for Facilitating Common Threads Discussion Groups
Common Threads discussion groups are conducted in a variety of settings, from church groups to libraries, to senior centers to schools, and can range from sessions that are open to the public to sessions that consist of a few friends discussing the poems over coffee. There is no right or wrong way to conduct a Common Threads group—what Mass Poetry does is supply the materials and support for engagement with the poems; what you do is take the poems to your community in a way that the shared experience will be enjoyable and valuable. But we can offer some tips—proven methods for hosting a successful and fruitful group.
Alice Kociemba, 2015 Guest Editor and eight-time Common Threads discussion group leader, says, “Encourage each person to participate. Trust that they will connect with these poems in an authentic and unique way. There are no right and wrong answers, no smart or dumb reactions to these poems. Everyone brings something valuable to the discussion. Not everyone will agree with each other, or like a particular poem. These reactions are also to be welcomed.”
We suggest supplying (or linking to) the Common Threads PDF in your promotion of a public group so that interested participants can familiarize themselves with the poems beforehand, but it is also perfectly fine to have copies of the Common Threads poems you’ll discuss on-hand at the event, so that attendees can read them there on the spot. (A reminder that the free, printable PDF as well as access to the $10 hardcopy will be released on January 6.)
Within your group, we suggest that the person who finds a particular poem meaningful read that poem aloud to the group, with no worries about stutters or mistakes. Their connection to the poem will come through with their enjoyment in reading it and hearing it recited in their own voice. It’s a strong way to kick off a discussion.
“At almost any poetry reading group experience I have had (and I have facilitated a monthly poetry group at the Falmouth Public Library for the past five years), members who have walked in skeptical about a poet’s work or a particular poem, have left the group more open-minded after hearing a poem read by someone who has a connection to the poem,” says Alice.
After the person reads the poem, ask him or her to say why or where they connect with the poem, and from there, the open-ended discussion questions we supply in the publication should carry the conversation forward.
Some members will want a “close reading” of a poem—an analysis of the use of adjectives, the power of the verbs, meter, syntax, and rhyme. This is of course all well and good, but for groups with several members completely new to poetry, who may be intimidated by the idea of poetic analysis, we would encourage discussing craft as it relates to the meaning and heart of the poem.
Haven't yet signed up to lead a group? You can do so here.