• Melissa Olson

Poetry, dad, & dancing in the kitchen


I had a bit of exciting news today - one of my children’s poems, titled Grandpa’s Feeder, has been picked up by Highlights for their magazine, Hello. It’s pretty ironic timing because I was working on this blog piece about a poetry workshop I attended a little over a week ago. I came home from the workshop motivated and humbled by the extraordinary talent of Michigan poet/workshop leader Joy Gaines-Friedler.

I met Joy years ago at poetry/fiction readings in Plymouth, and we met up again at a Bear River Writer’s Retreat. I remember when she told me she was being published. I thought, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. With strong ties to Detroit, Joy laughingly describes herself as a “Jewish hillbilly,” driving around the city in her old red pick-up truck. Her chapbook, Like Vapor, was one of the first books of poetry I read from start to finish.

During the workshop, Joy led a group exercise on imagery. It’s always great to be reminded of those key writing tools, as Joy did – imagery, building tension, the music you can create through words. These apply to any form of writing, including fiction, which is my main focus.

We were asked to think about three images we’d seen that morning, on our way in to the workshop. Mine were:

  • Huge snowflakes coating my gray hat.

  • Calvin (our cat) dragging his fish toy into the bathroom and dropping it at my feet.

  • A red-haired college student walking by the closed-down Indian restaurant.

Then, Joy asked us to write a list of 20 images using the prompt, I remember. For whatever reason, the image of my dad and I walking to Wednesday choir practices came to mind. This is what I ultimately ended up writing:

Young State Park, 2014

Floating in my blow-up dingy,

The rowdy beach at my back,

I look for you in the blue of the water.

On the path to the campground store

At the swings where I’d beg for a push-start

In the reeds where I’d sneak to meet that boy.

It’s hard to say

what I miss most.

Then and there, on our lake, it hits me.

I miss how you made me feel:

Safe, loved, tethered.

Grandpa’s Feeder is about my dad, as well. He and Leah loved watching the birds together.

The poetry workshop was held by a group I’m a member of, Women Writers of Ann Arbor/Ypsi (WWAAY). I love WWAAY events, being surrounded by open-minded, supportive women who are passionate about the same thing I am. It’s incredible to be around women who, some well into their retirements, are writing poems about dancing in their kitchen and being seduced. I definitely aspire to be like them, to stay young at heart, and to keep writing!


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