Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Workshop Sandwich

by Jonterri Gadson

After my last workshop, I met with Greg for a 30 minute weekly one-on-one meeting. These meetings are optional, but I plan to take advantage as much as possible. So in my first meeting with him, we talked about my feelings about the first workshop and he gave me suggested readings. He said something that I found rather significant:

*In undergrad workshops, praise is a major form of support. At the level of the MFA, the support comes in the form of how serious your classmates take your writing and in the time that they put into commenting on your work and in sharing their thoughts on your work with you.*

I'm learning that he has a very casual way of saying major, perspective-shaping things lol. I was nervous about going into this meeting and not having anything to say or that it would be awkward. This wasn't the case at all. Greg is very easy to talk to, especially about poetry.
Yesterday, I had my second workshop and another one of my pieces was discussed. After giving it some honest thought, I realized that much of my anxiety about the first workshop stemmed from my feelings about the piece I submitted. I had somehow decided that the piece was basically already done before I turned it in to be workshopped. I mean, I thought it was pretty impressive. Yeah, you don't want to really have that thought about a piece if you're going to have it workshopped because you will be proven wrong (and rightfully so in most cases).

So the piece that was up today was one that I had taken as far as I could take it but couldn't exactly get it to where I wanted to be. Because of this I was truly open to the feedback. And I got great feedback. The thing that trips me out about workshop is that people seem to pick up on all the things you think you can brush over in a piece and all of your motivations. I love it when they have the same questions as I have about my own work. No, it doesn't answer the question always, but it does help to confirm that there is something questionable in the piece.
I met with Greg again earlier today. After discussing with me the distance I've been putting between myself and the speakers in my poems in various ways, I shared with him that I worry that my poems will come off like I'm a whining victim if I get too close. I shared that I was worried that my writing sample had been just a bunch of victim poems that wouldn't get me anywhere lol. He suggested I let that go and that a victim is passive and the act of writing poetry is to take control, to make beauty out of that truth. He phrased it bettter. Then he lent me a copy of his book, Poetry as Survival. The timing couldn't be anymore perfect for that gesture.

I consider myself a risk taker when it comes to the subjects of my poems. This meeting helped me to realize that I actually haven't been risking enough.

So are you all meeting with your professors? How is that going?

Do you get the title of this post? lol Yes, workshop my blog post, please.


  1. That advice and comparison about the undergrad/grad workshops is something I wish I knew ahead of time. He's right. My classmates were very tough and very well-prepared, and not because I am stupid and a terrible writer. Their efforts and commitment to helping me get a better poem means so much more than, "Hey, I liked this poem." Thanks so much for sharing that insight. That's very valuable!

  2. Great post, JayTee! And yes, I "got" the title, but only after reading the post and going back to look at it. When I first read the title, I expected you start talking about how you want to take two workshops next semester; that's what I'm doing - taking both a poetry and a CNF workshop - so it was totally a self-obsessed thing that made me read the title that way. LOL!

    Anyway, Greg sounds awesome. I have not met with my poetry prof one-on-one yet. I should. But I haven't.

  3. Thanks for posting this, JayTee. I haven't met with any of my professors yet, but your good experience with it is giving me the guts to go into their office hours and have a chat!

  4. I keep trying to read your post intelligently, but all I can absorb is "she's on a first-name basis with Gregory I AM POETRY Orr!"

  5. I love how honest you are! I was just wondering about a poem I had critiqued by a small alum group I worked with and it is exactly what you said, it was basically done (at least for me) before I turned it in so the comments are all over the place because the poem wasn't ready to be critqued :) Glad you figured it out already!

  6. You crack me up, Marita!

    Seriously, those of you who haven't met with your professors...do it and do it soon! You know that after you do it you'll be like, "why didn't I do this sooner?"

  7. JayTee, I think sometimes, depending on who you're workshopping with, you want more to impress them then to improve your work, and that's when you end up feeling the most hurt, because they will invariably find things wrong with a work you thought was as close to perfect as you're currently capable of.

    And also, I try to drill it into my head that if there is something I am uncertain of, or wondering about, it is nearly always going to hit the readers too. If I think a stanza is 'pretty much there,' because I can't get it perfect? That means it's 'pretty much there' to everyone else too. It never gets brushed away like that by the reader, so it's important to be honest with yourself. Pretty much there, for me, is the same as not there.

  8. I think you're right, Keith. The reader misses nothing! And I agree, pretty much there is still not there lol


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