Monday, October 10, 2005


“...[W]ith blogging becoming more popular, there's less need, I think for the critique message-board workshop in general.”
-----------------------------------------------------------------------RJ McCaffery

I was saddened the other day to receive an e-mail notifying me that the on-line workshop “Haven” (run by R.J McCaffery) was closing down. I met, read and was read by some fine poets there. Chelle Miko (whose absence is missed), Frank Matagrano, Steve Mueske, Steven Schroeder, Hannah Craig, Amy Unsworth (?) and of course R.J. himself - come to mind offhand. I’m sure that I have missed others. Notwithstanding this saddening news, the gist of R.J’s comment on the diminishing need for on-line poetry workshops was both astute and thought-provoking. If indeed the “message-board workshop” had seen its day and has been by and large supplanted by “blogging” then a question came to mind. I.e.: Do blogging and work-shopping actually meet the same needs of a poet? On the face of it one would think not. I mean workshops allow the poet to hone their poetic skills. But they also serve as a backdrop as a sort of community to poets and those interested in poetics. The “Blogosphere” obviously also serves as a community i.e.:

What characterizes a community is sharing and interaction in any number of ways. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs and a multitude of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the degree of adhesion within the mixture, but the definitive driver of community is that all individual subjects in the mix have something in common.

This condition exists in both environments (the blogosphere and on-line workshop). However, the blogosphere is less of an adhesive whole than the on-line workshop. The workshop atmosphere more closely resembles any social environment, where while being open to outsiders, it generally plays itself out dramaturgically, within its social confines, with the same core set of personae on a day in and day out basis. This inevitably leads (as in any social group) to hierachical distinctions and assignations. (There’s a pecking order in them there hills!)

The balance between self-interest and shared-interests within and among members of a group is the crucial factor in community formation. When enough participants in a group develop an attitude of caring for the well-being of the whole, or the common good, the prospect of community is present.

The relationships between bloggers in general are more losely forged (there does not appear to be a definitive demarcation as to who and who does not belong) and thus appears to be less constricted by social role and status. Players are free to choose when, where and even if they want to comment and read without losing their general sense of status as it does not rely on the extent/level of their participation. It also seems that there is less of an interest in the "self" and more of an attitude of “caring for the well-being of the whole or the common good” in the blogosphere than in the on-line workshop. This might in fact explain why some of the best on-line workshops are attracting on-line poets with lesser and lesser frequency. This may not spell the end of the on-line workshop; but it does not, in my opinion, bode well for their long-term viability.


Justin Evans said...


I must admit that my presence at The Gazebo has declined greatly. I find myself tired of running my poetry through the gauntlet, though I freely admit many of my poems would not have been nearly as good if I did not receive help. I feel I have learned a lot and my participation now needs to be a support role more than anything---not that I am admired or anything.

I see the blog serving a different purpose. I don't workshop my poems on my blog, and most of the time I don't even solicit responses. I think there is a point where each is useful and needed.

That being said, I am very satisfied with my blog.

Nick said...


Re: “I am very satisfied with my blog.”

And well you should be. It’s a fine blog. I read it on a daily basis (whenever possible). I particularly liked your post: “100”.

Re: “I find myself tired of running my poetry through the gauntlet, though I freely admit many of my poems would not have been nearly as good if I did not receive help.”

I stated in my very first post on this blog that: “I've been posting and critiquing poetry on-line for about four years now in a number of venues and have reached a sort of impasse. Try as I may, I find it more and more difficult to post my work and critiques. I'm not sure if I am experiencing a sense of diminishing returns. This is not to say that I have not reaped the rewards of posting my poetry on-line. Without a doubt, the experience has both enriched and contributed to the small modicum of success that I have achieved.”

Re: “I see the blog serving a different purpose. I don't workshop my poems on my blog, and most of the time I don't even solicit responses. I think there is a point where each is useful and needed.”

The blog can serve a myriad of functions. Reb Livingston’s post, “Ways a Writer Can Make Use of Blogging - Revisited “: - enumerates several possibilities. There are also poets that have a blog that they utilize as a journal and another where they post their poetry for commentary. Others combine the two in one blog. That is what is great about this format, the poet/blogger can make use of it in whatever fashion they see fit.

Finally, I agree with you that the on-line workshop can be very useful, But in essence it is, in my opinion, only as good as its critics. Talented critics will inevitably attract talented poets.

Patry Francis said...

I've never done a poetry workshop on line, but you've piqued my interest (albeit a bit belatedly, since as you say they are on the wane.)

In any case, I've found community on my blog, both with poets and a whole host of wonderful likeminded individuals and equally wonderful, but completely un-like minded types. But I don't think I get much in the way of criticism. Most comments on a posted poem are of the polite compliment variety.

Nick said...


There still are some vibrant and worthwhile on-line workshops to visit. The Gazebo and QED come to mind. But the on-line poetry scene has changed somewhat since I first frequented these venues. These changes appear, at least in part, due to the increased popularity of "blogging". Since most writers keep journals anyway - it seems like a natural format for them to gravitate to and exploit.

Re: "Critiques"

I have been toying with the idea of setting up a blog that would allow "participants" to post poetry for more serious consideration. Maybe its time has come.

Amy Unsworth said...

Hi Nick,

It is sad to see Haven go, and I'd hate to see all the workshop boards close. I think that I learned an incredible amount in the time I spent both reading other people's work and thinking about what really makes a poem. Blogging is not the same, but it is a way to keep in touch with the community of poets and to find some conversation about poetry. That conversation, whether poems, critical thought, rumor or just plain talk, is important to me.

Nice to see you blogging,
Amy Unsworth