Monday, February 15, 2010

Craziest Thing That's Happened in Workshop???

by Emily May Anderson

Hello, everyone! I apologize for my lack of posts this semester. I am meeting with the MFA director tomorrow to chat about next year and what on earth I should be doing afterward, and I promise to come back with a report. But in the meantime, I'd like to pose a question to you all...

What is the craziest thing that has ever happened in a workshop you've been in? Undergrad or graduate. Either one is fine. You don't have to name the professor, but have you ever had an instructor do or say anything completely off the wall, or inappropriate, or demeaning, or etc? I just re-read Louis Menand's New Yorker article on the history of creative writing programs, and he tells some pretty wild stories of goings-on in workshop. I don't think I've ever had a creative writing professor do anything all that crazy, but I'm curious if other people have.

Soooo, any good stories???


  1. I once took a workshop with an amazing and kind but eccentric "famous" professor.

    One day in workshop, one of us had a copy of the J.D. McClatchy Vintage anthology (American poetry). The prof grabs the book and says, "What's this? My poems aren't in this! Why not?"

    He then sees who the editor is. "Oh, McClatchy. That's why. McClatchy hates me." He tells a brief story about McClatchy, and then takes a long look at the names of the contributors printed on the cover.

    "I've slept with three of these people. I'll let you guess which ones for yourself."

  2. I haven't had as much experience with crazy professors as crazy students--students who would stand up in the middle of workshop and yell at the prof. and students for attempting to give constructive criticism.

    My thoughts? If you can't take criticism, you shouldn't be in a graduate program. Rejection is a part of our existence.

  3. My creative writing professor pulled a cap gun out of his desk drawer and fired it at me while I was talking to him during office hours. I didn't know it was a fake gun and burst into tears when I realized the popping sound hadn't been an actual bullet. I was waiting for the pain to kick in when I realized it was supposed to be a joke. Now it's a good story, but that idiot is lucky that I was too young and naive at the time to know that he probably would have lost his job had I reported him. Hear that, Professor _________, you still have a job because of me! :)

  4. Rachel - I completely agree with you on that!

    Nick - That story made me laugh out loud. Thank you for sharing!

    Kerry - Wow, he is lucky you didn't make a complaint about that!

    I feel like I must have had some relatively boring workshop professors in comparison.

  5. Kerry, holy jeez, who does that? There's something wrong with this guy! I've heard of professors terrorizing their students with homework, but never with firearms--plastic or otherwise! Haha!

    Emily, I'm glad you enjoyed it! That professor is a wonderful man and well-meaning but definitely a character. I attribute it to the rough-and-tumble poetry world of the 70s, and so would he, I think!

  6. Kerry that is messed up! Although I did have a high school teacher who did something similar to his student teacher. But he told us he was doing it. She was the only one who didn't know!

    Nick your story is pretty epic too :)

  7. I think I freaked you guys out with the fake shooting story. :)I haven't told that story in so long I forgot how messed up it is. This happened pre-Columbine, so the idea that you could get shot at school was not in my mind at all (beyond Kent State.) The really creepy part is how he sat there smiling at me because he knew it was a joke. I was gaping at him, sure there was a huge hole in my chest, and thinking "Oh my God, he is a psychopath. He just killed me and he's sitting here smiling about it." I thought those were to be my dying thoughts.

    The girl who was outside waiting for her turn to talk to this professor was freaked out when I came out because she heard me crying. And I think I may have screamed. She said, "What the hell are you guys doing in there?"

    I said, "______________ has a very fucked up sense of humor." And I remember that was the first time I ever said the f-word in front of a teacher.

    The upside is that every other teacher seems quite sane in comparison. Needless to say, I got an A.

  8. Thanks to Nick's story, I'll chip in my own.

    Studying under a renowned Czech author, he would ask me daily if I had any questions for him about "intimaty." He called me "the innocent," and constantly motioned for me to sit on his lap. He explained that cheating on one's spouse is neither moral nor immoral, since sex is an act of nature. But I suspect that was the communist in him speaking.

  9. Hey, first time posting here, so hi everyone!

    Kerry: That sounds totally heart-stopping; I can't believe he did that to you!

    I had a professor in undergrad that everyone but me hated. He had gained some acclaim and some other professors were largely jealous of him, and I know a lot of mean spirited opinions of him on the students' parts were influenced by racism and homophobia. He also had the habit of telling people the truth instead of sugarcoating things (shocking!)

    One time, a student whom I'd happened to share a dorm floor with my freshman year and whom I knew to be completely batty delcared in our workshop that she was the "savior of science fiction." The professor wasn't "mean" like so many accused him of being, he just said, "no you're not," and she ran out of the room crying.

    Another time, there was a student who wrote a thinly veiled autobiographical piece about traveling in Thailand and Vietnam. The whole thing was rife with noble savage images and other forms of fun racism as well as damning grammatical mistakes. Because I'm Thai, this fellow student tried to get me to side with him when the professor said, "Just because you backpacked in Southeast Asia doesn't mean you know anything." How could I side with a guy who flattens my heritage into noble savagery and exalts so much in his own white privilege? I didn't even have words, so I just told him he had to watch his grammar.

  10. Yellow Lux -- Gross, gross and gross!

    Nick -- Your story made me laugh out loud.

    Emily -- Great post idea. Look what you started!

  11. We workshopped a poem that mentioned vaginas and kiwi fruit. The professor didn't understand the connection so drew a picture of the inside of a kiwi on the board that looked just like a vagina...but he couldn't see that! Me and the other students were trying to be really adult about it, my eyes were watering from trying not to laugh because seeing the picture on the board made the metaphor even stronger and more obvious lol. Someone did gently point out that the connection between the two was right there in his drawing, I think I might have pointed at the picture and mumbled, "it's a vagina" lol It was hilarious

  12. Yellow Lux,

    That is TOO funny! Also, mad props for the Czech reference! So did you study in the Czech Republic, and do you speak any Czech? Já jsem studoval v České republice jeden rok, a bydlim a učim teď na Slovensku. Tak, ten spisovatel, kdo to byl?

  13. These are all good stories, and most of them funny--definitely a plus!

    Less funny: I wrote a jokey po-mo piece of fiction that took place on an unnamed college campus and that had violence in it, and one of my fellow work-shoppers decided that must mean I was going to shoot up the school. Since he was an RA he reported me to the next person higher up the chain, which happened to be the chief RA--which happened to be himself again. He then reported me to the student trustee who also happened to be himself. He was about to take it to the dean of students when he asked the teacher, who explained to him that it was a fiction class. Yeah, that kind of sucked.

    Much funnier: the teacher who didn't understand the line in a poem: "the spark isn't gone, the spark doesn't go anywhere" and told me he didn't understand why there was some kind of weird electricity language in a poem about relationships.

  14. This is a fun topic/question!

    Let's see, nothing too crazy from my perspective but I can tell you that Andrew likes to do kind of a chicken dance when the meter in our poems is not working quite right. He also tells corny Southern jokes and graphic genital-related jokes in between commenting on our poems.

    Henri, meanwhile, likes to give out wacky assignments such as having his undergraduate students write lyric poems with words like: doily, nocturnal enuresis, bong water, heavy weight, pudenda, douchey, basilica, and stygian. He also likes to impose other restrictions on line lengths and subject matter. He tends to say wacky things to his students too, like telling them to re-title their poems "Abortion" as a way of proving to them how a title can push certain readings of poems.


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