Virtual Poetry Workshop: Featuring Kyla Jenee Lacey

By Sarah Landerholm (TheLorian)

Guests rushed to mute themselves as they tuned in. Rather than taking seats in the 3 floor atrium of the Loras College library, participants of the Virtual Poetry Workshop, featuring spoken-word artist Kyla Jenee Lacey, “Zoomed” in from front porches, classrooms, and offices. Despite the unusual mode of delivery, Lacey was exuberant and undaunted. She engaged her virtual guests in the same way she would if she were in-person, encouraging audience participation through word association exercises and a rapid-fire game of Taboo.

Lacey spoke primarily about the mechanics of poetry writing, discussing the poetry “Do’s & Don’ts—or, as Lacey calls them, the “Does & Don’ts.” She highlighted the importance of using literary devices like alliteration, synesthesia, and heterography in poetry and avoiding writer pitfalls such as forcing rhymes and writing in common terms. A poet who draws from topics such as heartbreak, assault, and social issues, Lacey’s fundamental advice was simple: “Speak about things that are important to you.” In other words, write what you know, and write from a place that is close to you. In her introduction, Lacey posed this question to her audience:

“For whom are you writing?”

She went on to discuss how poets are the first readers of their works; they are the first critics and responders. Because of this, she encouraged those in her workshop to write about things that they know intimately. The right topic—that which made a poet’s work meaningful and good—has to be about something they know well. Lacey commented that she always challenges herself with this essential question:

“Am I being honest about my writing? Am I drawing from my vulnerability and victimhood?”  

To not write from a place of familiarity, Lacey suggested, was to miss out on the cathartic power that poetry offers. Those who write about topics and experiences that are foreign to them run the risk of sounding and being “trite,” Lacey cautioned.

As an exercise, Lacey had the audience write two short essays, each from a different perspective. One participant wrote her first essay on what it means to be an American; her second essay was the reverse: what being American looked like to someone from someplace else. The essays, although written about the same topic—being American—were drastically different. Each highlighted a different part of the American experience, with one discussing America’s tragic history from the perspective of a white observer and the other describing that history from the perspective of a black person whose life and family had suffered at the hands of that history. The small exercise provided a powerful lesson: perspective is everything.

As the workshop wrapped up, Lacey gave her thoughts on what separates good poetry from great poetry. After some thought, she cited being truthful and real as the strongest elements of meaningful writing. Her response linked back to her earlier statements about drawing from real-life experiences, yet again asking the audience to consider writing as a cathartic practice that creates space to write about the “vulnerability and victimhood” in our own lives.  

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