It’s About Community, Not Competition Part 2

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

For the last week and a half I’ve been writing about a poem that I had commissioned by a group of student lawyers from University of Toronto and York University for an upcoming conference: SPINLAW 2013.

If you’ve read the posts  and seen the VLOG you’ll have noticed that I’ve been riding high, as well as working hard, on the poem.  There have been ups and downs, with more ups than anything.

Writing is a process.  You’re gonna go through shit: nervousness, fear, courage, isolation…

But I have not gone through it alone.

When I was first approached by Laura Spaner, my SPINLAW contact, I thought about calling one of my mentors.  I am privileged to have a few writing mentors:

Marilyn Dumont

Daniel Heath Justice

Lee Maracle

Simon Ortiz,

Maureen Hynes

I’m lucky.  I also know how to connect with peoples.  And I work hard.  No one is going to mentor a lazy ass!

After my first meeting with Laura I called Maureen.  I wanted to know about the process of being comissioned:

1. What was her experience?

2. Do you let them see the poem before you read it at the event?

3. Censoring and editing?

Lots to think about.

First, Maureen was excited and happy for me as well as proud of me.  That’s a real mentor and friend!

Second, Maureen gave me advice and encouragement and she offered to look at the poem at no cost.  These days people want to charge for everything.  Not my circle!

While writing the poem I read it out loud to two friends who are both great writers: Cindy Bourgeois and Julia Garro.  I only had half the poem done at that time and I wanted to know if they felt I was going in the right direction.

Both Cindy and Julia loved it but they had critiques, constructive critiques:

1. Some things were not clear.

2. Some images could be described better.

3. It flows, halts, then flows again.

I thanked both for giving me their time and thoughts.

Then came deadline day: March 8, 2013.

I arranged to have a coffee/writing/editing session with the ultra supportive and friendly poet Whitney French.

It went well.

I printed out the poem for Whitney and asked her to mark it up.  I kept re-writing on my laptop as she read and slashed.  We talked, laughed, brainstormed, edited, read, re-read, did our own work, took breaks, and came back to my poem.

Our writing session was three hours: Noon to 3pm.  My deadline was 6pm.

The last leg of our shared time together saw Whitney and I sitting side by side, sipping tea and coffee, hunched over my laptop.  We read out loud, read silently, read in whispers.  My fingers hit the “delete” button a few times and typed new words in.  We talked back and forth:

That sounds better.

That reads better.

That flows better.

You get the point!

Then came one last read out loud.  Whitney sat with eyes closed as I read lines about oppression that ended with hope.


We smiled, sighed, and screamed for joy.

I submitted the poem three hours early.

Thanks to Maureen Hynes, Cindy Bourgeois, Julia Garro, and Whitney French for helping me out with this poem.

Click here to read It’s About Community, Not Competetion #1 and tune in Friday March 15, 2013 for a VLOG with Whitney French and I talking about working together as poets.


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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  1. Daniel Justice says:

    Always great to see the fine results of your good heart and mind on the page, Jorge!

  2. Pingback: VLOG: IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY, NOT COMPETITION #2 | Black Coffee Poet


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