Andrea Talarico McGuigan still remembers her first poem.
Assigned to her by her 5th grade teacher, it was titled “United in Peace” with an accompanying illustration of “a black hand shaking a white hand.”
“It rhymed and it was pretty horrible, but unbeknownst to me, Mr. Gregory submitted the whole class' poems to a local contest and mine won,” McGuigan recalled.
“Several schools participated, and so I had to read my poem at the Fine Arts Fiesta, and 5th grade was the youngest grade. I was the youngest kid on stage, the only one from Tunkhannock, so the very first poem I wrote I ended up having to read in public, and I kind of knew from that point on that not only did I like writing poetry, but I really liked performing it a whole lot.”
She tried music and sports, but writing always unconsciously went to the forefront of her mind. With supportive teachers and family, she continued writing with socially conscious messages throughout her youth, thinking her “poetry could save the world.” She published her first poetry collection, “Spinning with the Tornado,” through Paper Kite Press in 2003.
“I had no idea what I was doing or what kind of impact a book might have on my work. I'm incredibly grateful for the experience – I definitely learned a lot from it. It's hard now to look back because the poems feel and sound incredibly young to me. I was a lot angrier, definitely, when I was younger. I dealt with a lot of those feelings, and I think I'm writing from a better balanced place now,” she explained, adding that she has another manuscript in the works that she's hoping to publish within the next year or two.
“I think people who have read my first book and have struck with me through that process will probably be…maybe not surprised because the voice is still here, but they'll see that there's been growth, I think. I hope.”
The 31-year-old Scranton resident, who describes herself as a “confessional poet” and “addictive revisionist,” is much more confident in her work when she's reading it to an audience, inspired by performance poets like Buddy Wakefield, Jeanann Verlee, Anis Mojgani, and Jon Sands. When coaching Poetry Out Loud students, she offers advice that comes from her experience hosting various poetry readings over the years.
“The word 'stanza' itself comes from the Latin for 'room,' and if you think about that then, your poem is a house. You have an entrance, you have rooms, and you have an exit to your poem, and what I tell them is to metaphorically walk through and find every nook and cranny in that house. Open the windows, explore the basement, explore the attic – get to know that poem inside and out before you even think about trying to memorize it,” McGuigan said.
“It's very apparent when someone knows not just how to say the poem, but knows what to say and knows what they mean by what they're saying.”
As a rostered artist-in-residence with the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit #19 who has also taught poetry workshops in schools, Arts Alive, and Arts Alive Intermediate, she has additional sound advice for students still mastering their craft.
“I teach them to journal every day. If they make the time when they first wake up in the morning to put down whatever scattered thoughts they have on paper, they will find material in that to work into something larger. I think it's very hard to sit down with the idea that you're going to craft a poem right now about a subject,” McGuigan continued.
“That's intimidating for a lot of people, especially people who have never written poetry, so what I tell them is to gather their scattered thoughts and leave a record of their life and their thoughts, and when they feel the creative urge come on, they can then mine through that material to find the gems in there.”
As she prepares to take over the Prose in Pubs series at Jack's Draft House in Scranton, McGuigan said she's looking forward to reading at the New Visions Writers Showcase on March 30 with her best friend, Heather M. Davis, and Stanton Hancock, Laurel Radzieski, Shelby Fisk, and Chris Campion.
“I've been to other cities, and I've been to obviously a lot of other readings and workshops, and when I tell people about how many events and what we have going on in this area, people from larger cities honestly can't believe it. I have writers from New York City telling me they can't wait to come to Scranton and read and meet the people around here,” she noted.
“I think we do have kind of a unique situation with our writers. I don't know if it's the history of the area or the slow economy – I don't know where it comes from, but we are definitely very rich in writers in this area.”