All workshops arc toward writing poems that transport both the reader—and the writer—in the process of writing. Where do we look for poems, how do we hear the ones asking to be written, how do we continue to listen until we find what can be found? Participants can expect writing exercises that encourage imaginative reach, sometimes through the inspiration of form or theme. We will also work through classical apprenticeship using great poems as models that influence their own. Metaphor which “makes it new” as Ezra Pound famously instructed, will be practiced as the atomic center of many poems, and William Carlos Williams’ concept of “no ideas but in things” plays a major role in discussion.
With selections specific to each workshop’s focus, participants can look forward to reading a broad range of accessible, engaging poetry, with a concentration on lyric narrative autobiography. Our emphasis will be on communal discovery rather than mastery, and how poems can delight and offer revelation about the human condition.
Workshops fall into three categories. Below are just a handful of examples, but each year finds new foci. Feel free to describe one you might want to join.
Plain American Stressing accessible work often using autobiographical narrative lyric, Plain American looks at a profound spectrum of instructively engaging poems using what Marianne Moore called “the plain American that cats and dogs can read.”
Fret Not Titled from William Wordsworth’s sonnet, “Nuns Fret Not at their Convent’s Narrow Room,” this workshop focuses on the relationships of form to inspiration, content, and to the act of reading and writing.
Turn It, and Turn It Again Though being Jewish is not a requirement, this series evokes the classical instruction for reading the nuances of Torah, “Turn It, and turn it, for everything is in it,” and explores the synergy between this and other Jewish frameworks regarding the act of reading and writing poems. Workshop specifically following the parashiot of Exodus and Genesis fall under this heading as well.
Class of Now For college age students not in college, this workshop looks to thinkers interested in reading, writing and discussing poems. Content will be greatly influenced by participants in collaboration with instructor. Students wanting to teach the instructor about spoken word are welcome.
Class of Now and Then For older adults. This workshop will focus on reading and writing poems of memoir—in the broadest terms—although we will travel wherever the currents of discussion carry us. This workshop, like the one run for two years at the senior center at St. Peter’s Church, may be a drop-in, ongoing workshop with a four-person minimum and a weekly fee.
Respite: Another Part of the Field These workshops offer an empathetic, confidential circle in which writers turn from ongoing preoccupations of family life and trauma, to access the imagination as part of a healthy, regenerative form of self-care and discovery. The focus of these groups returns to the self.
Similar workshops have addressed communities suffering from PTSD, including 9/11 first responders, and people transitioning out of ultra-Orthodoxy.
Workshops are generated by response to this site and usually have six to ten participants. You can gather your own group, inquire about a workshop you are interested in, or ask about shaping one around a different focus.
If you have questions or want to sign up reach out to me in an email with “Poems in Community” in the heading. Write a few sentences about who you are and what kind of workshop you are interested in joining. I can put you on my mailing list and let you know about upcoming groups. Fees vary and prepayment is required.
Jessica Greenbaum is a poet, essayist, and social worker living in Brooklyn. She is a long-ago graduate of Barnard College and the very first class of the University of Houston’s MA program in creative writing. Her first book of poems, Inventing Difficulty, came out from the Gerald Cable Prize, and her second, The Two Yvonnes, came out in Princeton University Press’ Series of Contemporary Poets and was named by Library Journal as a Best Book in 2012. A recipient of a 2015 NEA literature award, and the 2016 Alice Fay Di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America, she teaches inside and outside academia, and has designed workshops specific to her participants at Barnard College, Brooklyn Poets, Central Synagogue, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, The Lenox Hill Senior Center, and the 92nd St. Y. She was invited to create a poetry workshop for 9/11 first responders through the World Trade Center’s Health Program at NYU Medical Center, and was awarded a 2016 grant from Poets & Writers to teach at Footsteps, an agency to help people who are transitioning out of ultra-Orthodoxy. She was the poetry editor for the literary journal upstreet since 2006, and ends her tenure in September 2017.
I had never before written a line of poetry, but while participating in a workshop led by Jess at my senior center I came up with a collection of poems to give to
my family. Jess is warm and encouraging, and a supremely talented poet. Her workshop is a treasure.
Jessica Greenbaum is not only a top instructor, but an enthusiastic and devoted one who meticulously prepares her workshops [at the 92nd St. Y] — and exposes their participants to other perspectives, other possibilities.
As the group leader for our poetry class Jess imparts her extensive knowledge and skill with a touch that includes humor, dedication, and fair-mindedness. Her critiques always have the clear purpose of teaching rather than just giving an opinion about whether or not a poem is good. I always enjoy her classes.
[For our Brooklyn Poets workshop] I really liked how Jess spoke about our poems, always very warm and considerate, giving each poem her full attention, regardless of personal style or preferences. Her comments were to the point, and the conversations fruitful and inspiring.
Jessica is a creative, sensitive, and non-judgmental instructor whose devotion to poetry and her students improves all our work. I returned to poetry writing after 30 years away, and her assignments and rapport with our group [at Central Synagogue] had me writing each week with increased confidence.
Jessica Greenbaum’s writing class at NYU [Medical Center, The World Trade Center’s health program for first responders] teaches one how to tap into and touch our deepest memories, thoughts and wishes. By learning to better understand the power of words when used in poetic form we were able to bring back inner hidden treasures, we did not know we possessed. These gems of raw emotions took the forms of razor sharp poems that spoke from heart to heart. It was a therapeutic and cleansing experience, one that others will find worth the time and effort.
A first responder
Creativity helps me see things outside myself, as an observer, thank God for Poetry.
A first responder
Jessica Greenbaum is that rare combination of intelligent poet, inspiring teacher, and insightful critic. I loved our class discussions of poetry and poetic technique. I felt free to experiment in writing weekly assignments and, in the end, had a packet of fresh, new drafts. If you have the opportunity to take one of Jess’s workshops, grab it!