Saturday, September 5, 2009

What I Learned From My First Graduate Workshop

by Emily May Anderson

1. It wasn't as scary as I'd thought. I was a nervous wreck the night before my first poetry workshop in over 9 years. I even sent a copy of my poem to one of my poet friends in Columbus before workshop. But it was not that bad. Robin Becker's approach to graduate workshop is not to "fix" the poems, but to read them, paraphrase them, question them, and try to understand them, and to ask questions about how they might be improved. It was very constructive!

2. I need to read more carefully.
I mentioned before I think that the focus of our workshop this semester is on chapbooks. Each week we will read a chapbook or two and respond to them. I read the ones assigned for this week and thought I made pretty intelligent comments, but the people in the class were deep and really seemed to have studied the books a lot more than I had. I felt like I was understanding them better through the discussion, and like if I would have read them sooner and more repeatedly that I would have been better equipped to discuss them.

3. This will be a lot of work.
The eight of us are each workshopping a poem each week, plus reading and responding to chapbooks. We critique each other's work in class only, so that does not add to the workload out of class, but it makes for an intensely focused three hours.

4. I am glad to be here and to be doing this. And that's the most important part.

Oh, and if you want to read the first piece I workshopped, I posted it on my blog tonight. (My name links to the blog. It's the newest post.)


  1. I can relate to your second point, although it's not for just my workshop (fiction), but my other classes as well. I was surprised, pleased to find that my fellow students had done such close reading. I felt pretty cool for having underlined a couple lines, jotted a few words in the margins, actually finished the entire assigned reading — looked it over a bit before class. But everyone else did that too, and while I didn't feel I was under-prepared, I sort of quickly realized that there was a lot of opportunity here for in depth discussion, and I was going to be a part of it.

  2. Actually, I've been surprised by pretty much everything in my first two weeks of grad school.

    I posted about this on my blog. I'm sure the post will be at the top of my page for a couple weeks, since I sure as hell don't have time to blog more often than about twice a month.

  3. I've been surprised by nearly everything too! I haven't had one of my pieces workshopped yet (that happens tomorrow) but I have read and commented on other's work. I was shocked to find that everyone's styles were completely different from one another and certainly different from mine. I'm hoping I can give some useful feedback though.

    I love it when the people I'm surrounded by make me step it up like it seems your classmates are inspiring you to do with the readings. That's another plus of MFA programs to add to the list.

  4. I think you were involved in my favorite type of workshop, as you described "Robin Becker's approach to graduate workshop is not to "fix" the poems, but to read them, paraphrase them, question them, and try to understand them, and to ask questions about how they might be improved."

    I had a 9 year gap when I went back to grad school as well, you'll get into the swing of it :)

  5. I think one of the most important things you learned is to read more carefully. I had a similar experience in my workshop. I would make short notes on my peers' poems, while they were handing me letter-length comments. When it came time to discuss some of our readings, the comments were far more in-depth than mine were. It's great that you've come to this realization early. It's hard to tell what level of preparation you need until you're in a classroom full of people.

  6. Thanks for reading, everyone! Glad I'm not the only one who's feeling like she's got to step things up. I know this is good for me though, and I actually feel better prepared for this next workshop, as far as reading the assigned chapbooks. I struggled to understand them, but I put in the time, and I think I got at least some of the important stuff. As for this week's poem, guess I'll find out on Wednesday....

    Hope everyone's enjoyed the long weekend! Or the regular-length weekend, if you had class today.


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