Why Poetry Matters by Karla Huston

On Saturday, Nov. 5, at 3 p.m., poet and instructor for The Mill: A Place for Writers Karla Huston will present a lecture on poetry. The lecture is free and open to the public through the generosity of the Neenah Public Library.

Karla 2Why Poetry Matters

So what’s all the fuss about poultry? Those chickens work hard enough pluck-plucking at the bugs in the lawn. We need more poultry, not less! Those brown speckled eggs, those pretty, red hens! Lets hear it for—What?  Oh. Poetry? Well that’s different! Nevermind!!

Dear Miss Emily Litella: at one time, poetry was an essential part of life.  Folks went to readings, attended lectures, found poems in their newspapers, memorized poems in schools, wrote them. My grandfather was the class poet of the graduating class of Bangor High School—1906.

I believe in the power of poetry. I subscribe to this quotation by William Carlos Williams, who said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Poetry functions to keep language alive. It makes you a better writer. Poets work to find the best words for their poems, and when all else fails, invent their own (Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”).

If you write poetry, anything else you write will be better. Your ear will be trained to hear the words you need, and poetic devices will wiggle into your rhetoric—alliteration, assonance, hyperbole. You’ll find yourself using simile, anaphora. And the world will be a better place!

Reading poetry slows you. As a reader, you’re asked to attend to poetry in a different way, savoring words, slowing to pay attention.

Good poetry carries resonance. It reverberates through time and space. Think of Dylan Thomas’: “Do not go gentle into that good night” or Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” or “The Road Not Taken.” These poems touch us where we live; we remember them because we are human.

Poetry is art, and art gives back; art lets us know we will be okay. We have our homes, families, our jobs, careers. We have our losses, our troubles, our griefs, shared or alone. Art makes these things mean something.

“I think the mission of poetry is to create among people the possibility of wonder, admiration, enthusiasm, mystery—the sense that life is marvelous. When you say life is marvelous you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel—that is the role of poetry.”  Octavio Paz

“If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem.”  William Carlos Williams

Winner of a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses award in 2011, Karla Huston earned a master’s in English/creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She is the author of a full collection of poems A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications: 2013) and seven chapbooks, most recently, Outside of a Dog (dancinggirlpress: 2013).

Free Literary Series

Aspiring Poets, Novelists, Memoirists Invited to Free Series

The Mill: A Place for Writers and the Neenah Public Library Partner to Inspire Regional Writers

NEENAH – The region’s writing community will gather on three November Saturdays for conversations on poetry, fiction and memoir. The conversations, led by writing instructors from The Mill: A Place for Writers, are free and open to the public through the generosity of the Neenah Public Library.

Each conversation will begin at 3 p.m. with an hour-long presentation, followed by a 30-minute Q&A. Featured speakers are widely published and award-winning writers in their genre.

Nov. 5
On Poetry: By Karla Huston
Winner Karla croppedof a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Small Presses award in 2011, Karla Huston earned a master’s in English/creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She is the author of a full collection of poems A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications: 2013) and seven chapbooks, most recently, Outside of a Dog (dancinggirlpress: 2013).


Nov. 12
On Fiction: By Steven Polansky
Steve croppedSteven Polansky taught at Princeton, St. Olaf College, Macalester, and the University of Minnesota. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Glimmer Train, Best American Stories, New England Review, and Minnesota Monthly. His collection of stories, Dating Miss Universe, won the Sandstone Prize for Fiction, and the 2000 Minnesota Book Award. His novel, The Bradbury Report, was published in 2010 by Weinstein Books.

Nov. 19
On Memoir: By Jill Swenson
Jill-Swenson croppedJill Swenson is a developmental editor and literary representative who recently moved from New York to Appleton. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has taught, edited and coached writers for 30 years. Jill won the first Muskeg and Spruce Writing Contest for her piece “If We Were Good” and has previously taught at the Loft Literary Center, Ithaca College, and the University of Georgia-Athens.

The Mill: A Place for Writers supports the artistic development of writers, fosters a writing community, and builds an audience for literature. The Mill offers learning opportunities for writers at all levels. Its broad range of classes and workshops explore fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Classes are taught by accomplished, widely published writers, with literature as the standard to which students are guided and held.

A reading of Croy Shore

Please join us on September 17 for a special event at The Draw from 3-5 pm. Free and open to the public.

The draw

On September 17, The Mill, A Place for Writers, in cooperation with The Draw community arts center, will present a reading of Gillian Shirreffs’ play, Croy Shore.

Croy Shore is set in Scotland. “It centers on the lives of Craig and Sarah Anderson, a couple whose relationship is threatened when disease enters their marriage as an uninvited guest. Into this fragile world, an old flame appears,” Shirreffs said.

Event Details:
Doors open at 3 pm, starting with a time when past, present, and prospective members of The Mill can meet and talk with each other, and with Mill teachers. The reading of Croy Shore will begin at 4 pm. The Draw community arts center is located at 800 S. Lawe St. Appleton, WI.

Gillian Shirreffs grew up in Stirlingshire, Scotland. She gained an MA in GillianEnglish Language from the University of Glasgow before embarking on a business career that led her to live and work in the US, France and Austria. Having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007, she began writing as a way to explore the odd world of illness into which she had been thrust. Her short stories and poetry have been published in anthologies of Scottish writing. In 2014 she gained an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. During this time she ran a successful letter-writing project that encouraged non-writers to tell their own MS diagnosis stories. This culminated in a book of letters, Step Inside MS, and a weeklong exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. In August 2015 her play, Croy Shore, was performed in Glasgow at the Centre for Contemporary Arts as part of a showcase of emerging Scottish talent. She moved to Neenah last summer and is on The Mill’s Board of Directors.

The Mill: A Place for Writers, now in its fifth year, was founded to create a center that would encourage the growth of the Fox Valley literary community and provide learning opportunities for writers at all levels. The Mill offers a broad range of classes and workshops on Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction, taught by accomplished and widely published writers.

The Draw, combines workspaces and offices of digital and fine artists, a modern art gallery and a place to collaborate. The flexibility to adapt to the needs of the community and the artists is what makes The Draw unique.

Getting Feedback: The Horror, The Horror by Michael Hopkins

All writers need feedback on their work. But, whom do you ask?

A year ago when I started writing fulltime, I quickly completed my first short story. It is called “Infinite View.” The story is constructed in three parts. Of course, I thought it was pure genius, and I decided to get some feedback. First, I asked my wife to read it. She said she liked the beginning and end but thought I could eliminate the middle. She suggested I send it to her brother, who is a University level, Journalism Professor. He said he liked the middle and end but thought the beginning could go. He asked if he could send it to his girlfriend, a voracious reader, and good critic. She thought the beginning and middle were good, but suggested I jettison the end.  I looked at the document, processed the feedback, and thought: I could satisfy everyone, if I just hit delete.

What’s a writer to do?

The advice you receive on getting feedback is varied and confusing. Some suggest to only let your work be read by someone who is in a position to buy it. Others recommend workshops; perhaps get an MFA, and others say to develop a set of trusted beta readers from the writing community.

I was fortunate to find The Mill (here in WI), and I signed up for a fiction workshop. It was run by Steve Polansky, an experienced University writing Professor and published author with great credentials: a novel, a book of short stories, New Yorker, Glimmer Train, etc.

The workshop is 8 weeks and costs $200 ($180 if you become a member of The Mill for $35).  It was well worth the investment. The first story I submitted, “Frames,” another work of my genius, came back from Steve looking like a term paper that received a grade of F-. The line edit called out antecedent issues, attribution issues, POV issues, but also had margin comments such as: ‘your prose really crackles here’, ‘great sentence structure’, and ‘fresh idea’.  I was devastated and encouraged. The good thing is that once you research and fix the mechanical issues, you will rarely repeat them in future work. The typical charge for a line edit that includes, Proof Reading (basic errors, typos), Copy Editing (grammar, consistency), and Content Editing (overall flow) could run about $5-$10/page. Over the course of the workshop I submitted four stories, about 70 pages. On the open market this would have cost me $350 – $700.  So the workshop was a great deal.

Another benefit is that I built relationships with other local writers.  We provided feedback on each other’s work during the workshop, and we continued to meet and support each other after the workshop ended. To swipe a blurb from the Workshop description:

“The best things come, as a general thing, writes Henry James, “from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation.”

In addition to local workshops, there are other options, and one that I can suggest is the Facebook group: The 1% Writers Club. Run by Jennifer Blanchard (check out her books on Amazon), a best selling author and astute writer’s coach. You will find almost daily VLOG’s from Jennifer that will inform and motivate you. Also, you will extend your reach to others in the writing community. I’ve found a few folks that are now on my shortlist for beta readers, and I return the favor to them.  This is free.

I spent 3 months in South Korea this year (a long story), and I developed relationships with a few writers through the Seoul Writers Workshop. I am continuously trading work with a few writers, and this has been very valuable for my development.

The hard work of editing and revising starts with the writer. If you don’t have the time or money to go through an MFA program I would suggest three books. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Davis King and Renni Browne, Writing In General and The Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills, and, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Reject Bin by Noah Lukeman. They contain a wealth of information on improving your craft.

How would you like to spend 8 hours listening to Stephen King? Get his book, On Writing: a Memoir. I’d recommend the audio version, read by King. It puts you across the kitchen table with King, as he gives writing advice, and his life story.

So, just because your friend, or significant other is in two book clubs, or actually finished Moby Dick, be wary of who you let read your work, it may set you in the wrong direction.  But, you need to get feedback. Be choice full, and get your work in the hands of others who are equipped to help you improve.

Yes, getting feedback is hard, but, no pain, no gain. Don’t be fragile: you won’t break, and the more you get, the easier it is.  Commit to the hard work of acquiring many productive avenues for feedback, and your work will move down the path from good to great.

Michael Hopkins is a freelance writer and serves on the board of The Mill. He lives with his wife, cats and chickens on a modest farmette in Wisconsin. He is currently fretting about misplaced commas.

Croy Shore – a post by Gillian Shirreffs

On Saturday September 17th, during a Mill event that runs from 3pm until 5pm at The Draw in Appleton, there is a reading of my play, Croy Shore. By way of introduction, I’ve written the following blog post.

Croy Shore

I’m heading to Scotland in a couple of days and I’ve asked my husband if we can visit Croy Shore. He’s agreed, which is good of him because we’re not home for very long and it’s a distance from where we’ll be staying. Also, it’s not his place; it’s mine.

Croy Shore is a pretty stretch of beach on the rugged west coast of Scotland. It’s a bit of a bother to get to and there are lots of lovely spots in Scotland that involve no bother whatsoever – like the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, where we’ll actually be staying.

I first visited Croy Shore as child in the 1970s. Back then the overspill parking lot was a stretch of sand. Cars and campervans in hues of brown, orange and green would line up neatly next to the big rocks that signaled the entrance to the beach. We would arrive in our tangerine VW Beatle (a 1975 Jeans Beatle special edition, no less, with seats upholstered in blue denim) to meet up with aunts, uncles and cousins who often spent part of the summer in a nearby caravan park.

The weather was always good at Croy Shore. At least, in my rosy and revisionist memory, the sky is a perpetual blue and the children are forever swaddled in the sun’s warm rays.

I remember laughter. I remember searching for creatures in the shallows and running, chasing one another, along the shore.

From the beach you look out to Ailsa Craig, a rock of blue hone granite in the Firth of Clyde with the power to enchant, especially when the sun sinks behind its back. The name Ailsa Craig comes from Gaelic and means Fairy Rock. You can imagine what the mind of a child will do with that.

The thing, for me, that’s most special about Croy Shore is that nine years ago in April my uncle told me to go there. Thanks to Multiple Sclerosis I had been unable to feel my feet for a bit (or my legs, or my arms, or my torso) and I had a dream (literally I’d dreamt about it) that if I regained the feeling in my feet I would walk along a beach. I had become aware of all the simple pleasures I’d taken for granted and the thing I wanted most at that moment in my life was to be able to feel wet sand under my toes.

I’d confided this to my uncle; he was in a hospice, dying.  On one of my last visits, I whispered to him that the numbness had begun to recede; I didn’t know if it would last, but that morning I could feel my toes. He sent us off – me, and my husband – to Croy Shore.

It wasn’t magical at first. The long drive was uncomfortable as the muscles in my chest wall had been in spasm for weeks and the uneven path from the parking lot (cars are no longer allowed on the beach) proved a challenge, as did the sheer distance of the walk to the beach, which, it truth, was no distance at all. Eventually I reached the water’s edge.

It was spring, which, in Scotland, meant the water was frigid, but it didn’t matter; I could feel wet sand under my toes.

At some point later, frustrated by hours and days and weeks of bed rest, I began to write. Strangely, what appeared on the page were things that might best be described as poetry, in the loosest sense of the word. One of the first of these was entitled Croy Shore. A few years later it was published in an anthology of Scottish writing called, The Second Tide.

Croy Shore

Cyan sea merged into sapphire sky

on a chill spring day.

The last gift of a loved one

bequeathed from his hospice bed.


Arctic water startled toes

awakening from a trance –

a whispered dream

realised at last.


Feet, now liberated,

splashed in icy shallows

and limbs, still hungry

for release, basked in

a crisp sun.


I bathed in a silent melody –

enchanted by the day

I walked,


feet wet and gritty,

along Croy Shore.

It may seem odd that a play I subsequently wrote about a marriage in peril is also called Croy Shore. However, it made perfect sense to me.

A writing game, if you can call it that, I’ve found myself playing over the years involves me crawling out of my own skin and into the skin of someone else, usually someone who also has a neurological illness: a man in his twenties with a wife and two small sons; a single woman in her thirties who obsesses over the lives of the people she encounters in waiting rooms; a man in his forties confined to a wheelchair who has an overbearing mother and so on. One of the possible scenarios I pondered involved the effect illness might have on a marriage that, before the diagnosis, was already in difficulty. I gave my ill-fated couple, Craig and Sarah Anderson, access to Croy Shore to see what might happen. Unfortunately, for them, it didn’t go too well.

Writing Routines: Planning for Success – by Michael Hopkins

Edward de Bono, famed guru on creativity, writes that inventiveness is not a process of chaos and spontaneity; rather, it is the result of breaking from old routines through the use of structure.

Let’s talk about sex (Ahhh, now I’ve got your undivided attention right?). Cialis commercials would have us believe that having a healthy and satisfying sex life is simply a matter of waiting, and “being ready for when the moment is right.” But, I know of couples that schedule a “date night” between Book Club and binge watching Orange is the New Black, or, House of Cards, on Netflix. This is not a bad idea. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

When I was freelancing as a music and book critic for five newspapers and magazines, I was also working a fulltime day job and raising three kids. I had something due every week, so I had to carve out the time from my busy schedule to write. Deadlines were wonderful devices that forced me to plan a writing routine, and in 15 years, I never missed one. Now, as a full-time writer working on fiction, out of my day job and the with the kids all raised, I have the luxury, or curse, of being able to put my personal writing projects aside to take a 30 mile bike ride, work all day in the garden, or, write a Blog post.  But I still need to establish self-imposed goals and routines, or I’d never finish anything. I wake at the same time each day, have a cup of coffee, read the news, check social media, meditate for 30 minutes, have another cup of coffee, and get to work by 10 A.M. I write continuously until 4P.M.

As a side note, I’ve had many aspiring writers tell me that they have a great idea for a book. Heading off their next comment, which is frequently a proposal for a partnership, where they give me the idea and I write the book, I interrupt them and say, “That’s great, now all you need is 10,000 hours on your ass in front of a keyboard and you’ll have your book!” Make no mistake, good intentions and ideas are important, but writers write. You have to put in the hard work of knocking out that first draft and revise, revise, revise. I always listen to music when I write a first draft, but I edit in silence. This is my variation on Hemingway’s comment: Write drunk. Edit sober.”

In Mason Currey’s informative and inspirational book, Daily Rituals, he gives us snapshots into how 160 notable artists work. William Faulkner wrote in the morning, F. Scott Fitzgerald worked at night. We learn that Charles Dickens, one of the world’s most prolific authors, needed absolute silence, had to have his office arranged in a very particular way, and scheduled his day, hour by hour, never veering a minute from his routine. Haruki Murakami made 180-degree lifestyle changes, shifting his habit of smoking 60 cigarettes a day, eating unhealthy and never exercising, to behaviors that made him more productive. The great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov would wake at 5 A.M., get to work immediately, and write all day, every day, including holidays and vacations. Stephen King famously admitted that when questioned on his writing habits, he had been telling a lie his whole life. He said that he’d told the press that he wrote everyday, except on his birthday and Christmas. This was a lie: he did write on his birthday and on Christmas.

Whether you have a lot of time, or a little, if you want to be a successful writer, you need to plan a routine. Setting goals on quantity or time can be a good start: for example, writing 5 pages a week, or 15 minutes a day. Tell everyone you know about your goals; this is a good way to establish a network of accountability and it will compel you to do the work. Don’t be a victim of your unfulfilled dreams; let them propel you, through action, into becoming the predominant creative force in your life. A funny thing occurs when you do this: you find happiness.

Take that first step. Not tomorrow, but right now. If not now, then when? Mark time on your calendar, perhaps in-between Book Club and Sex Night.


Michael Hopkins is a freelance writer and serves on the board of The Mill. He lives with his wife, cats and chickens on a modest farmette in Wisconsin. His first book of short stories will be published within the next year. (Yes, I’m setting up more accountability here)

It’s Summer! Time to read and write

It’s officially SUMMER!

Welcome to the new website for The Mill. Take a look around and let us know what else you’d like to see here.

There is still time to register for classes offered for readers and writers at The Mill, A Place for Writers.  First sessions start tomorrow.

Summer Writing Kickstart with Nikki Kallio begins June 27 (6 weeks)

Reading for Writers with Steve Polansky starts June 22 (8 weeks)

Poetry Re-vision with Karla Huston begins June 29 (6 weeks)

Fiction Workshop with Steve Polansky  begins June 22 (8 weeks)

All classes will meet at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Appleton from 7-9 pm. No sessions on July 4.