Thursday, September 3, 2009

First workshop completed

by Whitney Gray

This is going to sound overly dramatic, and I'm certainly playing it up a bit, but there's always a hint of truth in comedy.. right?

Well, today we had our first poetry workshop at good ol' UNCG.. and it was.. interesting. I really loved the pacing of the class. In three hours, we covered six poems out of the ten submitted. Each poem received a lot of time for reading and critiquing. At times, I struggled with the format of the workshop, because the poet is given no time to defend or clarify anything within the poem. (One friend pointed out that if you were reading a poem out of the canon, you wouldn't have the luxury of asking the poet. Point taken.) In previous workshops, we would discuss a poem, and then turn to the poet so that he or she could answer any questions, or to ask his or her own. It helped clear up some confusion for both the readers and the writers. We discussed this with our professor, who said we may turn to the poets in later classes, but for now, we will stick to the layout.

Another interesting part of the class was how the poems were ordered. Stuart Dischell implemented the method that however the poems were turned in, no matter the order, was the order that would be used in class. It just so happens this "random order" stacked all of the first year poets back-to-back and at the front of the pile. I didn't have the pleasure of going first, but being a part of the first group wasn't as intimidating as I had expected. I did, however, go last, and with only a few minutes remaining in class. I was worried that people would begin shuffling around, preparing to leave the course, but no one glanced at the clock and hinted that they were ready to leave. I received an equal amount of attention to my poem that the previous poets received. I appreciated the equality, as well as the pacing of the class allowing us to fit my poem into this session, rather than leave it to next week.

I will say, however, that the experience in the workshop was very tough. My classmates are far more trained that classmates I had in my undergrad workshops. People know exactly what they want to say, and how to say it. When they have any confusion or difficulty with a part of a poem, they say it. I'll admit, my poem wasn't the strongest, but I was very surprised to hear the reactions. My poem was read to be quite hilarious, when really, it was intended to have a very sarcastic, but not necessarily humorous tone. The misreading made it difficult for me to focus. Then, I had that moment every warned me of: The Moment of Self Doubt. I began noting on my poem--"is this poem a failure? What have I done wrong? How can I clarify?" Those notes didn't hold the real questions though. "Am I a failure? How did I get in this program? Do I really know how to write? Does everyone think I'm stupid?"

The feelings, thankfully, have passed, but that little bit of self doubt will always be in the back of my mind. I think this doubt will help drive me to write better poems and to focus on the things I value in poetry: precision, and above all else, clarity. I wrote about the importance of clarity in my Statement of Purpose, for Pete's sake! It was a good dose of reality, albeit difficult to swallow, but it can only help me.


  1. *hug* <--- which is corny but I really feel you. thanks so much for sharing honestly about your first real workshop experience. Clarity is key for me too. You have the right attitude about the whole self doubt thing. Use it to fuel your writing and really make a breakthrough in your poetry. I will definitely keep that in mind. Well said. This is great.

  2. I'm feeling the same way, filled with self-doubt, and I haven't even had to workshop or even read anything in class yet. I have to write two short pieces for Sept. 14th for two different classes, and that is it, but I'm terrified and filled with self-doubt about reading them out loud!

  3. I think I'd be more worried if you weren't experiencing any self-doubt!

    It sounds that while your workshop was kind of a tough first experience for you it will probably benefit you more than a workshop where everything went "well" but was less rigorous. Even if it sort of hurt that people misread your poem, it is a valuable thing to know. Hopefully it'll make you a better poet, even if the territory comes with self-doubt.

    I don't understand workshops where writers are able to explain or "justify" their work. When work is published or put out there for readers beyond our workshop we would never have the opportunity to explain anything beyond what was on the page. I get why it can create frustration in workshop, but I also think its a more beneficial approach. (Although I think writers should be able to ask their peers certain questions in workshop or ask a workshop member to be more clear/specific in their criticisms, I don't think it works when writers can explain, "Oh, I meant this to mean this" or something like that.)

    I hope your next workshop is a happier experience. :)

  4. I am feeling for you! My first grad workshop experience was very similar to yours. I felt overwhelmed and I was so close to crying because of the intensity of the experience. It does get easier.

    I was a little miffed about the not talking during the workshop but it really is a good method in the long run.

    I had Stuart for my last undergrad workshop. He is a pretty interesting fellow :)

    One down! Woo hoo! Now go to New York Pizza and have a slice!

  5. Whitney, I would not worry so much about the confusion between sarcasm and humor. As a poet who writes humorously much more often than any of the other poets I know, and who reads those poems in front of many different types of crowds, I know that the 'take' of a sarcastic or a humorous poem is largely dependent upon the mood of the crowd, which itself is largely dependent on the poem that proceeded it. The different between humor and sarcasm is a fine line, after all; part of the reason that laugh tracks are added to shows is to let the audience know when something was meant to be funny. On stage, this can be handled by your demeanor, or like I said, the kind of poems you've been reading.

    It just happens that humor is grossly considered to be a lesser form of poetry, and so, often, we feel like a poem taken as funny is in some way a failure, but the important thing, really, is whether your point came across. Maybe it did, or maybe it didn't, but the presentation of your poem, I think, probably had very much to do with the misreading of it as funny instead of sarcastic.

  6. I'm sorry you had a tough time in the first workshop, but I like your attitude, and I think we all have that self-doubt. It'll get better!


Related Posts with Thumbnails