Poetic Musings

Students young and old come to the poetry workshops led by Dr. Willis McNelly.

inner workings of poetry-


Words roll off tongues like the beat of a drum. The rhythm resounds long after the book is closed.

"Poetic muse seems to be eternally in all of us," said Willis McNelly, professor emeritus of English at Cal State Fullerton. 1t is as integral as breathing." A recent re-birth of poetry was celebrated Tuesday night at the first of a series of poetry work- shops offered at the Fullerton Public Library.

A group of about 40 people, young and old, poets and nonpoets alike, listened closely as McNelly led the workshop.

He began by reciting and interpretation of a poem by W.H. Auden. Words roared from his mouth and his hands made lively gestures toward the audience.

"I hope you don't mind when I'm taking a great poem apart like this," said McNelly, who taught at CSUF for about 35 years. "I'm trying to show you how a poet feels his/her way into the act of writing."

The free workshop series grew out of McNelly's idea to welcome the resurgence of poetry, explore its creative process and encourage poets to keep writing.

"I'm not a poet," McNelly said. "I've written one or two poems in my life and none of them were any good, but I know good poetry when I read it.

"I read my own, and I know it wasn't any good!" he said with a chuckle.

The workshop will continue to ask the question, "What makes a poem a poem?" and hopefully find answers, McNelly said.

"Poetry's got to be an emotion or it's nothing," he said, "but it also has to say something. So there's this interesting combination through the head and heart that's always going on in poetry.

"When you are a writer, when you are an artist, the one thing you want to do, above all, is to impose your vision on whatever order of reality you're dealing with," he said. "Whether it be clay or musical notes or words or whatever, you want that vision up here [in your mind] to become incarnated into that artistic material."

Many said they were pleased with the first workshop and they would definitely come again.

"He piqued my interest," said participant Carolyn Beauchamp. "He's a good teacher and shows obvious skill with the subject."

The poetry workshops will continue through this year on every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. On November 28, novelist Ray Bradbury will share his own poetry experiencess.

"McNelly deals with some things with enthusiasm," said CSUF alumnus Derek Hollingsworth. "He does what he does out of pure joy, and that's the kind of person I want to surround myself with."

The upcoming workshops, McNelly said, will deal with writing poems, sharing it with others and getting poems published.

"These are just ideas to get you started," McNelly said. "If you want to [write about] something that stimulates you, if you want to write a variation of the joys of drinking margaritas, then write a sonnet on the joys of drinking margaritas."