Finding inspiration in the winding Woonasquatucket River or in the juxtaposition between the stunning architecture of Broadway’s stately Victorians coexisting with graffiti tags, Providence-based poet Rosalynde Vas Dias’ work draws heavily on her adopted city. “It’s important for poets to foster a sense of discovery. I feel like there’s a ton of that in Providence. If you walk around with your eyes open, you’re going to be delighted.”
“Poetry was my form of rebellion,” says Vas Dias of her teenage beginnings in the Lehigh Valley of Eastern Pennsylvania. Her dad was an English teacher, and she grew up surrounded by culture, but the idea of poetry in her young mind was that there was freedom to do anything you wanted within those stanzas. “It’s such a nerdy sort of rebellion,” she muses.
Attending grad school disabused that notion. “You’re drilling down on things like how a sentence lays across a bunch of line breaks, and you’re talking about pacing and tone. And you’re like, oh my God, everything’s a choice, and so out of the window go all the notions of freedom,” she says, chuckling. “Poetry is one of the most restrictive forms, really. But within all of that restriction, there’s a lot of flexibility. But you know, when you’re 14, you’re just like, look, they’re not capitalizing their letters. There’s appeal to that.”
It is working within those confines that inspired Vas Dias to create a workshop specifically looking at punctuation in poetry for What Cheer Writer’s Club. Her Craft Curiosity workshop, Sounds of Silence: The Art of Punctuation in Poetry happening on April 30, digs into how to use punctuation for texture and mood tweaking. “Punctuation isn’t really a rule, it’s a tool,” she explains. “Writing a poem is like riding a horse. You can gallop that horse, or you can make that horse do a fancy gait that’s tight and controlled. What is your intent? What are you trying? Does your pace match what your subject matter is? The effect this has on the reader is super exciting to me. It’s in the weeds of craft, for sure.”
Her first book, Only Blue Body, won the 2011 Robert Dana Award from Anhinga Press and her work has been published in journals like Crazyhorse and The Cincinnati Review. While she nerds out on craft intricacies like punctuation, she is a firm believer in keeping poetry accessible. “Read whatever moves your heart,” she says, noting that she was a voracious reader from the start, and devoured all sorts of poems and poets regardless of the gatekeepers. “Who cares what’s vetted by ‘the Academy’?”
She sees the discomfort of writing a poem as part of the growth process, both as an artist and a human being. “How do you think an iguana feels when its skin is coming off? It feels itchy and uncomfortable,” she says. “So you’ve got to let your skin come off sometimes so you can be a bigger iguana. As artists, I think it’s really helpful sometimes to hold on to those metaphors. You can say it’s okay, I’m just being an iguana today.”
Vas Dias’ workshop Sounds of Silence: The Art of Punctuation in Poetry happens at What Cheer Writers Club on April 30.
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