An introduction to Loosely Identified, the St. Louis Women’s Poetry Workshop, and how we work as a group
The Loosely Identified poets meets from 6:30-9:00 the second Friday of each month inone of the upstairs rooms at the University City Library, Delmar and Kingsland in the U City Loop. In 2013 we will switch to the third Friday of each month.
We remain a women’s group because we know that gender makes a difference in the literary life, just as it does in life in general, and because we feel that women poets serve themselves and one another best in solidarity with each other. We have met in some form since 1974. In the late 1990s we gained the name Loosely Identified in recognition of the many feminist, activist, artistic, and literary settings that have nourished us.
Loosely Identified likes to function as a cooperative without an established or elected hierarchy and so we operate with certain assumptions. In order to share the responsibilities among ourselves with a minimum of imposed order, we like to observe these practices:
1. Group care. Members rotate in and out of group care responsibilities such as meeting sign-ups and reminders, meeting room arrangements, treasurer, roster upkeep, public readings support, and website maintenance. All members serve each other as facilitators. As far as possible, members stay in communication and support one another as poets.
2. Group communication. In solidarity with the group, we keep in touch with each other about meeting attendance, questions we might have about the group, items of group business we’d like to propose, small groups we might like to form among ourselves, and so forth. Roster updates mean that members are just a phone call or email away. To preserve meeting time for workshops, members often gather for sociability and brainstorming at the St. Louis Bread Co. on Delmar (before meetings) or at Cicero’s across Kingsland from the Library (before or after meetings).
3. Poets’ workshops. Two poets (“readers”) sign up in advance for each workshop. They bring enough copies of their poems for everyone to look at (suggest 15 minimum). The norm for sign-ups at this writing is one per year; poets interested in more frequent workshops might check for openings on subsequent rounds of sign-ups or in consultation with the sign-ups member. Poets new to the group are encouraged to attend a few meetings before signing up. All members are expected to attend LI workshops regularly if they sign up. For more feedback opportunities, see “small groups” below.
4. Workshop facilitators. Readers from the previous month’s session will co-moderate, facilitate, and serve as timekeepers (in effect, signing up for a workshop is signing up for the next month’s facilitation). Keeping the group running smoothly and taking leadership to ensure space, time, and excellent feedback for the current week’s poets is a rotating and shared responsibility. We take this responsibility seriously. Consulting with each other before meetings start, facilitators also arrange time as needed for 1) member announcements (often at the start of a meeting) and 2) group business items such as planning for upcoming readings (often at the end of the meeting).
5. Workshop process. As member Becky Ellis writes, “Ask for specific areas of feedback, if you wish, but generally just read the poem and sit back in blessed silence while the group ruminates over it and gives you responses. Don’t feel compelled to answer questions – you’ve given us the poem; now wait and see what we do with it.”
6. Other members’ thoughts on feedback. These ideas were gathered in conversation at the Bread Co. before the November 2005 meeting. In answer to Nan Sweet’s invitation for us to talk further about how we like to give feedback, several members exchanged ideas over email and then met at the Bread Co. before the November 05 meeting. They offered these suggestions: Focus on the poem, not the poet. Begin with positive remarks and balance criticism with praise. Offer a sense of what the poem is doing as a whole before speaking to its particulars. Speak from who you are as a poet and reader, your own preferences and background, as context for your feedback.
7. Small groups. Especially at the time of our creating Breathing Out: Poems by Loosely Identified (Cherry Pie Press: 2004), LI broke into small groups or clusters linked to the group for editorial, production, and business purposes. We’ve since formed smaller ad hoc groups to organize readings, plan festivities, read local women poets, and offer feedback on individual poems or chapbook manuscripts. Members are encouraged to form small groups of this kind and to keep LI as a whole informed about them.
8. Other activities: Readings. LI gives periodic public readings as a group, and its members support other members when possible when they read as individuals or subgroups. Readings often provide for book tables for sales, swaps, and freebies. New members ordinarily establish their involvement before participating in an LI-sponsored reading. On a rotating basis, individuals will naturally take the lead in arranging for and organizing these readings, but all readers are expected to contribute to publicity and “bring” audience members for the group.