Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quality of work

Right now the prevailing wisdom for getting an MFA is "time to write." When most people talk about time to write, they don't just mean that if you write a million poems a few of them will stick. The idea, generally, is that if you keep working and experimenting, while spurred on by your talented workshop buddies, you will better learn the craft of writing. This is what I think people mean when they say time to write--that it is actually time to improve as a writer, and that the production of work in a workshop environment will facilitate that. Which leads me to my point: I just got hammered in workshop.

I write too many poems. Not that that's a bad thing, I like writing lots of poems. I like writing down everything interesting I hear at a lecture or see on an advertisement. I enjoy having a large amount of mediocre work that I can toy with for craft purposes, and in which to find the occasional good poem. (Which is really a way of rationalizing the fact that I just can't not write.)

Sometimes it's easy to lose track of the difference between a good poem and a good poem I want people to read. So when I turn a poem in for workshop that I think is doing some interesting things with surprise and tone, and it gets hammered for not doing anything else, what do I do? I go write some more poems.

It seems like a vicious cycle, doesn't it?

There's a delicate balance between writing, writing, writing and identifying when that writing is finally paying off in that one bad-ass poem that finally just happened.

As brutal as it can't be, sometimes it's nice to know that other people will hold my poetry accountable, too.


  1. Congrats on the hammering, Joshua! lol You made an excellent point that I'm just discovering also: "Sometimes it's easy to lose track of the difference between a good poem and a good poem I want people to read"

    I think in the first month or so of a program it can be hard to produce work that you feel like other's should read but you still feel the pressure to submit something for workshop.

    You definitely have a good attitude about workshop though. Good to see you on the blog!

  2. Oh and yay! for you writing too many poems. I need to develop that problem lol.

  3. i have the writing too many poems problem as well. people are always amazed when i say i "retire" poems but i write a large volume and hope to cull a few decent poems out of the process.

    sometimes i wish it was the other way around. who wouldn't want to be a first word/best word genius?

    love how you took something positive away from the experience though :)

  4. JayTee, thanks for the welcome! And I agree about first month workshop blues.

    Jessie, I dig your euphemism of "retiring" poems. And first word/best word genius would be awesome--also a lot more believable if Ginsberg hadn't always revised his work...


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