Barger Leadership Institute hosts poetry workshop

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - 10:29pm

Poet Zilka Joseph encourages students in the Mindful Leader Program to use writing to creatively engage with their environments at the Weiser Wednesday night.

Poet Zilka Joseph encourages students in the Mindful Leader Program to use writing to creatively engage with their environments at the Weiser Wednesday night. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

On Wednesday, the University of Michigan’s Barger Leadership Institute invited Zilka Joseph, internationally acclaimed poet, author and teacher, to lead a poetry workshop in Weiser Hall for advanced fellows in a BLI cohort called the Mindful Leader Program. Joseph’s seminar focused on channeling creativity to engage with our lives and work.

The Mindful Leader program is a contemplative practices program composed of a 10-person cohort. The cohort engages in mindfulness-related discussions, workshops and other immersive and experiential learning opportunities. It provides participants with diverse approaches to cultivating mindfulness, along with the language and skills to practice habits of mindful leadership.

BLI Director Ramaswami Mahalingam introduced Joseph to the cohort and praised not only her poetry, but also her ability to immediately connect to students and explain nuanced poetic concepts efficiently.

“It is rare to have someone who is a good poet but also a good teacher who is committed to teaching, because artists aren’t always the best teachers,” Mahalingam said.

Joseph began the workshop by instructing the cohorts to maintain an open mind and proceeded to guide them through a number of exercises revolving around a topic as simple as food. Through the exercises, the cohorts reflected, reminisced and were able to share their diverse array of experiences and specific memories attached to them.

LSA senior Jessica Selzer said this workshop dispelled misconceptions she had about poetry and  motivated her to write more poetry in her spare time.

“I was never a fan of creative writing,” Selzer said. “It’s more abstract, and there was always an assumption that poetry has to rhyme and be in a certain format. But the (techniques we learned in this workshop) are so simple, and make me want to continue writing what is on my mind since it broke the myth that poetry is supposed to be a certain way.”

 

Joseph’s poetry is unique, drawing on her experiences as an immigrant from India and a member of the small Indian-Jewish minority and diasporic community. These themes, as well as those tackling identity, are central to her workshops. Joseph has cited these experiences as motivating her to become more inclusive and sensitive to diverse backgrounds in her work.

As the workshop continued, the BLI cohorts journeyed through vivid and poignant personal stories. According to LSA sophomore Olivia Chan, the workshop provided her with the specific techniques to advance her creative writing.

“Although I have been dabbling in poetry, Zilka has encouraged me (to pursue it further) and I will use the techniques to declutter my mind and when I journal,” Chan said.