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