Tina Parker

The myth of the lone artist

Date of Post: 
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Yes, I need to be alone for stretches of time to create new work, but I need a community of writers to push me to grow. The myth of the lone artist leaves much to be desired. That myth, coupled with the artist's tendency to self-sabotage in the form of letting good connections slip, can do some serious damage to writers. 

Back when I was a 20-something, I took several writing workshops with James Baker Hall. He taught me that a poem is good if it takes the top right off my head. He challenged me on several fronts: to give myself permission to write honestly, to talk about poems in a new way, and to seek out a community of writers. Jim Hall's emphasis on the importance of community hit me at a crucial point in my writing. I had just finished graduate school but didn't want to lose the chance to be in writing workshops. I was accepted to Jim Hall's community poetry class at the Carnegie Center in Lexington---a mix of writers from many backgrounds and of many ages. In this format, Jim taught us to seek out fellow writers: meet with those writers, share food and drink---above all, just be with other writers. He encouraged us to form a poetry group that would meet after our class with him ended. 

His challenge gave birth to my first, best poetry group. We six women poets named out group Mosaic. It is hard to express how much it meant to have a group that could extend beyond any class. This group gave me the incentive to write new poems--we met once or twice a month to respond to each other's new work. From their responses to my work over time, I learned to pinpoint my themes and to remain honest in expressing my truth. We were able to maintain regular meetings for five years, when two of us--one being me--moved out of state. When I moved, I continued to seek out a community of writers by signing up for workshops and attending literary events. Like maintaining any relationship, it takes work to seek out fellow artists and find a way to get together. The world has little time for serious talk about art; it's up to me as a writer to make that exact type of conversation happen, to find people who will welcome--not stifle--it.

I am grateful for all that Jim Hall taught me and for the community of writers he encouraged me to keep close at hand.