Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On taking advice

Having studied with just about a small army of excellent teachers, I've been told my poems need to be a lot of different things: less clever, less explain-y, more rhetorically grounded, more out-rushingly imaginative, more direct, more musically cognizant, more traditionally moral, less ambitious, more ambitious, funnier, sadder, etc. etc. and etc. among many, many more pieces of advice. Almost all of them have been useful in some way or another, even if only to knowingly reject.

Teachers have cut apart poems and moved lines around, or simply cut lines, or cut everything but one line and told me to start over.

And the thing is, I generally have taken teachers' advice. Not all of it, and not every time--but often enough that I stopped myself recently and asked about one poem: this is good, but am I the reason for that?

It seems that the MFA is a time specifically designed for learning what advice to take and what advice to reject, but there are few strictures about how much is too much. After all, if one of the young artist's first concerns is finding a voice, and then no one wants to compromise his or her "voice," taking advice might be a matter of trying to understand what that voice is. But most of us are young enough that, even if we already thought we knew or are discovering what the voice is, it's still mutating, even if only a little at a time.

Which leads to my questions. One: how much advice is too much advice? Two: is advice better served focusing on the individual poems/stories or the writer in general?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grad School Nomads

Hello everyone! I hope your semesters are wrapping up well!

I just posted an entry on my personal blog about Grad School Nomads. Check it out!

Have safe and happy holidays! And for the grad school nomads out there, drive/fly safely! :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is workshop for?

Here's my dirty little workshop secret: I sometimes workshop poems that may be (*gasp*) mediocre (well, maybe not mediocre--maybe only a little good). My theory is that if I only workshop my best poems, looking at those poems will be a waste of everybody's time, but if I workshop my almost-there poems most of those mediocre or maybe good poems will improve substantially.

It's also easier to make radical changes, I've found, to work that's either really fresh or been around long enough to know it needs improvement (and if it's been around that long, it's probably got more problems than I want to deal with).

This is a great strategy if my goal for workshop is to improve individual poems and identify early stumbling blocks common in my work.

Here's the philosophical conundrum: The best part of workshop is looking at all the awesome things everyone else is doing--so if everyone else is turning in awesome work that is doing awesome things, am I being selfish by not turning in as-awesome work that is not doing as-awesome things? Two caveats:

Sometimes it's boring to workshop already mostly finished really good work.

And sometimes the work we thought was really good and mostly finished it turns out might have still been really good, but still needs a lot of work. Sometimes workshopping really good poems can help you turn them amazing.

Maybe each workshop has different standards and expectations for the kind of work being brought in, but do y'all have any opinions in general on what the workshop is for?
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