Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Defining the workshop

There was article by Jason Schneiderman about what the workshop is and what it can be for in the latest American Poetry Review. It's a pretty neat article, and it got me thinking.

I've had some pretty cool and different workshops in my time--everything from drawing my poem to having it diagrammed in time and space, to regular old criticism from my peers.

Right now I'm in the thesis manuscript workshop, by a fluke of scheduling and an experiment in how the class is run. The only reason I was able to stay in the class is because we weren't only focusing on the manuscript as a book, but also what such a large selection of poems says about the person writing them (or the myth the poet is making of herself). Suffice it to say, it's been phenomenal to read everyone else's thesis manuscripts, and though I don't have an MS I did get to have a large sample of my work discussed.

I learned some things about my writing: how I view the body as grotesque; the way I collage, or work almost in the mode of an action painting; that I was cultivating a voice of ironic asides that I hadn't even planned on, or particularly liked; that I over-rely on "to be" verbs, etc. Mostly I got my butt kicked, but in the best possible way (which is, I suppose, the goal of all workshops). My myth seemed to be Atlas or Midas, one of those classical figures who believes himself (or is) cursed by his own strengths.

So now I have absolutely no idea what to do. Do I embrace my habits and preoccupations? Do I try to be aware of them but not work in their modes? Do I try to do something completely new? Right now I just want to write good poems, but I don't want to write the same good poems as before.

So there are two questions really:

First, what is the workshop good for? Nurturing skills? Vision? Talent? How you communicate your vision to your audience? Finding out what kind of poet you are (or have been lately)?

And if you did find out what kind of poet you (currently/recently) are, what would you do with that information?


  1. you know this s a really great topic! I love this idea of creating myth with collections of work. I think we all do that subconsciously.

    Workshop, for me, was about getting outside of my own head to see how other people read my work which is very valuable especially if you write about your own life. You may not realize things are not clear to everyone else etc.

    Looking forward to the discussion!

  2. That workshop sounds intense! I would imagine that you'd get a lot out of an experience like that. For me, workshops are good for highlighting weaknesses in my work, for finding out what works and what doesn't. Also, I gain a lot from reading my classmates' work in its early stages because I can see more clearly how they are doing things I find to be strengths in their work and incorporate those strengths into my stuff.

    It's also one of the only opportunities we'll get to have a dialogue about our work. So that's nice.

    In workshop this year, I realized I was clearly a narrative poet. So I read all the criticisms about narrative poetry and became very afraid lol. I tried to rebel against it, but I'm not ready. This is where I am now and I try to avoid the pitfalls of writing the way I write now while building on the strengths I do have for this type of writing. It came down to self-acceptance, in a way. It's a struggle, but I think it's worthwhile.

  3. This is an excellent topic. At OSU, each professor teaches the workshop in a different way...Kathy makes it more self-directed on our part and is really drawn to persona and the texture of language, whereas Andrew provides most of the (piercing, insightful, sometimes raw and painful) comments in his workshop and is drawn to metrics and forms. Henri, on the other hand, often gives lyric exercises that stretch us in ways we are normally not accustomed to writing. Certainly criticism is the foundation of any workshop, but the professors here are very interested in stretching us out in various, different directions as a way of giving us some versatility. That being said, the idea of drawing a draft of a poem sounds extremely fascinating to me!

  4. Jt I ran into the same issue with realizing I was a narrative poet. I try not to listen to the critics who make it seem like a lesser art form but that doesn't mean I don't get angry when they pick on the storytellers! :)

  5. Tory,

    I was in the aforementioned poem-drawing workshop with Josh, and I must say it was something else. We all read our poems aloud to one another and, without looking at the text, wrote down the lines that struck us the most. Then we used crayons or colored pencils or whatever it was to draw something that we think represented our poem. Then we took those lines that others liked, cut them out, and pasted them onto the drawing. Finally, we hung them all on the walls and went around as a group analyzing them as if they were paintings. It was easily the most out-there thing I have ever experienced, but it was certainly interesting. Nothing like a new perspective, right? A really, really new perspective in this case!


  6. @Nick, thanks for the explication--I'd forgotten exactly how we did that. Credit to Kazim Ali for the drawing workshop, which was a welcome change-up from the usual workshop.

    @Tory, I like the idea that a program have wildly different workshops being offered within it.

    @JayTee, I agree completely about writing being a worth-while struggle (always, otherwise, what's the point?). I wonder what criticisms of narrative poetry you mean--I'm not so good at it myself, so I'm unfamiliar with its virtues/vices. Tony did have me read Orr's essay, The Four Temperaments, though, which seems maybe along those lines...

  7. And @Jessie, yes, I think we all do it subconsciously (though some people perhaps more wide-rangingly...), and if we think otherwise, we're not being perceptive about our own work...

  8. @Josh that's funny, I was actually thinking of one of Tony's articles lol http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=177773

    It got to me because, at this point in my writing, I am both narrative and confessional lol

  9. Sentimental & narcissistic are the two criticisms of narrative/confessional poetry that worry me the most, so I try really hard to guard against those things, which is a good practice anyway.

  10. ...although sometimes workshops (going from memory - talk to me in a year) are fun for getting to a point, perhaps realizing some consensus about your work, then completely going against it. Laurie Anderson (I think) said she sometimes does her best work when she sits down and tries to create the worst possible piece of art she can imagine.

    I often found my reactions to feedback both incredibly divergent from what was said to me, but also incredibly productive. It's like, along with thoughts, ideas, specifics, etc., the others around the table are giving you the energy to change your work, and sometimes you don't know where that will lead.

  11. @JayTee: That's funny! I think I've read that essay, and I remember it being good--perhaps the criticisms of narrative are useful because he's someone who writes some narrative poems himself. I wonder.

    @Jamie: Yes, I agree about the reactions to feedback, and also with the desire to do something new, always. That's pretty cool, what Laurie Anderson said.


Related Posts with Thumbnails