I suddenly feel naked, entering an unknown world. Is anybody out there? My name is Ellen Beth Siegel, I am wearing clothes, and I am entering the world of blogs for the first time. Most of my writing has been in the very different universe of poetry, but this blog-in-prose will be about poetry and poems, all kinds of poems, and about how to write poems. About people who write poems. About why people choose to write poems. About what goes into writing in a particular poetic form. About finding new ideas—creative stimuli—for writing poems when faced by writer’s block, every poet’s most dreaded disease. I’m hoping to start dialogues with other poets about how to get published, and how to help more people become interested in—even, excited about—poetry. I’m open to using this blog as a platform for wherever it might take me—and us—in the world of poetry.
So, let me start by introducing myself. I have lots of fancy credentials, most of which have nothing to do with me as a poet. A Harvard law degree. A doctorate in psychology. What I “do” now, to earn my daily keep, is work as a clinical psychologist. It’s work that I love, because it allows me both to know others in a deep way and to help them (or at least to try to). I suppose that for many people, that would have been enough . . . but for me, there has always also been a love of words. I don’t have much of my childhood that I can go back to (possibly more on that later), but I do remember writing poems in second or third grade, being fascinated by rhyme, loving the differences in meanings between one word and the next, playing with language. Writing has been a lifelong companion—even, at times, an emotional refuge.
I started writing poetry in a serious way in the 1980’s. At the time, I was looking for a way to express feelings (one of the many things poetry can do). Those early poems were dreadful, shouting with angst, screaming words like “Pain! Grief! Unbearable sadness!” I wanted to do better and looked for tools; I found a wonderful book in my local library, The Intimate Art of Writing Poetry, by Ottone M. Riccio, then discovered he taught workshop classes practically in my own backyard. My heart in my mouth, I signed up for a class, nearly backing out a dozen times before the first meeting.
That was in 1990, and except for when I went back to school for my psychology degree, I have been working with Ricky, as he is called, ever since. How lucky I am!—because Ricky is really a gifted, inspired, and inspiring teacher. And it is through Ricky that I have earned my stripes as a poet, as have ever so many others.
I’m not a “big-shot” in the poetry world (at least, not yet!). With family, work, and all the other things demanding my time and attention, I can’t devote much time to sending poems out to journals, but I do have a fairly respectable handful of publications, including a Pushcart nomination, and I have two chapbooks that, although not yet published, have each won honorable mentions in chapbook contests. I have also co-written a book with Ricky, Unlocking the Poem, that I am enormously excited about and hope you will be too: it’s a teaching tool for writing poetry and a creative stimulus for the writing of your own new poems—for you to discover and “unlock” the poems waiting just for you—based on Ricky’s assignments over his forty years of teaching, and one of the things that makes this book unique is that it is “illustrated” with poems by Ricky’s students, ordinary people, people like me . . . people who have become poets. I hope you’ll join us in this poetry-quest. Download a free sample of Unlocking the Poem; try it for yourself!