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ELKO – Every writer faces external criticism. It goes with the territory.

A poetry workshop with Paul Zarzyski encouraged participants to listen to those voices but to also look inside themselves for meaning and guidance with their art form.

“Why are you here? Why did you take this class, ‘cause it’s cheap?” poet Paul Zarzyski asked his workshop students, waving his hands, an Italian gesture he said he got from his mother.

It was a cue for participation, and a few took the bait.

“How do you know when a poem is finished?” a participant asked.

“You never know when a poem is finished, you only know when you can abandon it,” Zarzyski responded.

He went on to explain music and message.

“Some people used to call it sound and sense,” Zarzyski said. “My mentor Richard Hugo used to say, ‘In all poems, there is a constant battle going on between the music and the message, and in the very best poems neither ever really wins.’”

Zarzyski said he fails often, and when he does, it is usually on the side of music. Most people want to write in a linear fashion, but that is not always the key to success.

“The poems that are in some ways more successful in delivering a message is not, ‘Once upon a time, A,B,C,D,E,F G.’ In the reworking process, the poem will tell you to shift to something totally different, and you have to come back. ‘All the Way to the Short Ride’ does that a little bit. Somewhere in there if the muses are very happy with you and you are being graced on a given day, you will write a line like ….

‘It’s impossible, when dust

settling to the backs of large animals

makes a racket you can’t think in,

impossible to conceive that pure fear,

whether measured in degrees of cold

or heat, can both freeze

and incinerate so much

in mere seconds.’ “

The line refers to Zarzyski’s poem about a friend who was crushed by a Brahma bull.

“Was that a little overbearing,” Zarzyski asked? “I didn’t mean to be overbearing.”

“Pretty close,” a participant said with a laugh.

“Thank you, John. We want honesty!”

The group discussed poetry at the gathering and marveled at the variety. They shared their own poems and talked about the future of the medium.

“I think there is a general lack of appreciation of poetry everywhere, not just cowboy poetry,” return student Joann Nyman said.

People agreed. However, the 24 students were ready and willing to share their work with the teacher and their peers.

Clearly, poetry is not dead.

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