Writing, poetry in particular, can be an excellent way to process feelings and thoughts, especially during this past turbulent year while we’ve been sheltering at home.
Two of our neighbors, Grace D’Anca and Mary Gayle Thomas, have used the Community Living Campaign’s weekly writing workshops in just such a way. They recently each had their work showcased by the San Francisco Public Library as a Poem of the Day.
Before the pandemic, CLC’s Community Connector program offered small writing groups in several San Francisco neighborhoods, as well as partnering with LitQuake on a joint elder writing project. For the past year, these writing groups (including one focused on memoir writing) have continued — and grown — with weekly virtual classes that engage participants online and by phone.
Ms. D’Anca has been writing on and off since the 70s but mostly kept her work private — only sharing it with a few close friends. Early on, she took a couple of classes with talented supportive teachers, including Leslie Simon and the later Kathleen Fraser. However, a handful of extremely critical classmates discouraged her from sharing her work more broadly.
Still, she’s always liked exercising her creativity, whether in drama, dance, theater or writing. As a creative arts therapist for about 40 years, she helped people of all ages use various art forms to cope with challenges.
She jumped back into writing poetry more regularly when the CLC LitQuake Elder Writing Project started.
Talented, Supportive Teachers
“It’s a great program with such talented and supportive teachers who act as mentors,” she said. She also participates in some of CLC’s weekly writing groups with Marina and Melanie as well. “Because of the writing expertise and support of all the teachers, we’ve learned so much and developed lovely friendships through sharing our work, laughing a lot and crying a bit, too.”
One of her favorite experiences with the writing classes have been the opportunities to participate in public readings. These readings started in person and are currently held once a month via Zoom.
“These have been exhilarating,” Ms. D’Anca said. “One of my best experiences was the last in-person reading we did last year when my daughter came and I read a poem about her.”
For Ms. Thomas, poetry is an activity she took up after retiring in 2016. It’s more of a challenge — not so much labor of love as just labor — but the supportive environment keeps her coming back to our writing classes.
At first, she attended a CLC memoir writing class that she really enjoyed. She found herself in the poetry class by accident, thinking it was another writing class.
“Honestly, I’ve hated poetry for years,” Ms. Thomas said. “Once I realized it was a poetry class, I was just too polite to walk out.”
A big part of what keeps her coming back is the encouragement of her classmates. Her favorite thing about the classes has been the live readings when everyone shares their own poetry and prose.
“The CLC audience is always so positive and affirming of our work,” she said. “After the first reading, one attendee told me, ‘For someone who hates poetry, you’re pretty good at it.’ That meant more to me than anything the teachers could have said!”
In addition to attending CLC’s writing groups, Ms. Thomas also now leads the Monday Writing for Remembering group herself.
Listening to Understand
“Ms. Thomas has she become a huge part of the community that CLC aims to develop through our programming,” said Marina Lazzara, who teaches some of the writing workshops. “She’s also developed her skills as a writer and listener who can give positive feedback. When we write, we offer a part of ourselves to others. When we listen, we not only learn about our own craft. We are also inspired to be a more empathic person.”
To see their poems and the rest of the Poems of the Day, visit the San Francisco Public Library webpage.
Join Our Writing Classes
Want to join one of our upcoming writing groups? CLC hosts four writing groups each week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. These groups are open to everyone from complete beginners to more experienced writers. You can find more details here on our calendar.