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?

1 comment:

  1. Great that you are considering all of these questions now. I feel like each individual poem makes up the writer and is not really separate. A writer writes. How to work on the writer separately from the writing? The development of voice is never over. I just heard my professor read from her new book of poems...I hadn't heard or read her poems in 15 years. She has grown and shifted and it is beautiful to see/hear. She has a writing partner she's worked with for years...perhaps finding the right quality of "advice" is more important that the right amount.


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