Board member David Kozinski knows poetry. And he knows our Poetry Master Class Leader Yolanda Wisher is an incredible poet, teacher, and performer. David grabbed some time with Yolanda to talk about her craft. Here is what she shared!
PWC: I thoroughly enjoyed your keynote address at the Wilmington Writers’ Conference last summer, in which you seamlessly enmeshed the thematic elements of your address with some of your poems. How does being a performing musician, as well as a poet, speaker and teacher influence your writing? Does music affect the way you create a satisfying program for a lecture, a book of poetry or other artistic endeavor?
YL: I approach writing poetry as a process of composition and improvisation. Playing music and teaching are also similar acts that require an intuition about arrangement and invention. For me, a “satisfying program” is a flow between organization and disruption.
PWC: What did you enjoy the most about teaching your 2017 PWC Master Class, “Mood Indigo: Writing Blue(s) Poems” and what do you most look forward to about teaching this year’s Master Class, “Poetry Color Study”?
YL: In my 2017 class, I enjoyed the sense of community I felt in my workshop, the blurring of lines between teacher and students. We were all “masters” in that class, learning and being inspired by each other.
My writing practice is regularly expanded by my play with other disciplines and media. So I’m looking forward to seeing how the participants in my class stretch their creative muscles in new ways and converse within the shared vernaculars of poetry and painting. I’ve never used painting in a poetry workshop I’ve taught before, so the class is also uncharted ground for me as a teacher.
PWC: Do you have a discrete space, in your home or elsewhere, where you do most of your writing or can you work in a variety of places? What has been the impact of travel on your creative process?
YL: I primarily work in my office on the third floor of my house, surrounded by my books and knickknacks and plants. But I can also be found writing on my porch or stoop. I am often moved to write when I’m on the bus and the train—the rhythms and sounds create a sonic backdrop for my words and lines on the page. Traveling out of town for writing residencies has made me appreciate how different landscapes (the forests of Whidbey Island or the mountains of Colorado) can frame my writing practice and nudge new forms and imagery to emerge.
PWC: Would you share some of your experiences as Poet Laureate of Philadelphia (2016-2017) and P.L. of Montgomery County, PA (1999)?
YL: I became the inaugural Montgomery County Poet Laureate (MCPL) when I was 23 years old—20 years ago! During my term, I enjoyed traveling around the county with MCPL founder Joanne Leva to share my work. I once performed my poems from the altar of an old Mennonite Church.
As Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, I did over 170 engagements and reached more than 60k people in my audiences during my two-year term. I hosted a pop-up poetry festival in 30th Street Station, a takeover of the Philadelphia Museum of Art called City of Poetry, and the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s Poetic Address to the Nation at the Painted Bride Arts Center. Plus, I got to mentor three fabulous Philly Youth Poet Laureates: David Jones, Otter Jung-Allen and Husnaa Hashim.
PWC: What is your earliest memory of being conscious of the power of words and your earliest memory of being aware that you were creating something new with them?
YL: My earliest memory of being conscious of the power of words: Walking with my great-grandmother up Butler Pike in Ambler, without talking. Just observing, conversing with our eyes, ears, and minds. My grandmother taught me that the power of words is in the quality of the silence before or after they are spoken or written. Silence is part of the power of words, the power to say something or nothing.
My earliest memory of being aware that I was creating something new with words: Walking to elementary school one morning as I came up with rhymes in my head and then rushing to write them down on a paper napkin in the cafeteria when I arrived, fearing that they would evaporate from my mind and be lost forever.
The 2019 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference will be held from June 7 – 9 at the Wyndham Hotel in Old City Philadelphia. To find out more about Yolanda’s Master Class and to register for the conference, visit our registration site.