Friday, November 03, 2006

The Poetry Workshop Conundrum

"The poetry workshop resembles a garage to which we bring incomplete or malfunctioning homemade machines for diagnosis and repair. . . Whatever we bring to this place, we bring it too soon. The weekly meetings of the workshop serve the haste of our culture. When we bring a new poem to the workshop, anxious for praise, others' voices enter the poem's metabolism before it is mature, distorting its possible growth and change. "It's only when you get far enough away from your work to begin to be critical of it yourself"—Robert Frost said—"that anyone else's criticism can be tolerable. . . ." Bring to class only, he said, "old and cold things. . . ." Nothing is old and cold until it has gone through months of drafts. Therefore workshopping is intrinsically impossible. "

--------------------------------------------------------------------Donald Hall

7 comments:

Robert said...

Hmm... I wouldn't say impossible, but certainly the challenge is this: to find the kernels of truth within other people's experience of your work and run with them. Leaving the rest (praise, blame, and everything else carried too far).

Nick said...

I guess it boils down to what importance the poet puts on finding these kernels. I would think that a conscientious poet might go to extreme lengths to find out how the reader experiences their work. Thanks for the response.

Robert said...

Yep, taking feedback is an art. And not just in workshops.

Love the Hall quote on premature ejaculations. That's what our high school English teacher said we were doing when we blurted in class without raising our hands. He also had a penchant for misusing the word mastication.

Personally, I think it all comes down to marshmallows. You either eat one now. Or you wait.

ian kotliar said...

I don't know if that's true in all cases. Having distance from the poem helps but editing it succesfully within a close period of time is possible, I guess everyone speaks for themself.

Nick said...

Re: Personally, I think it all comes down to marshmallows. You either eat one now. Or you wait.

Of course you can also choose how you want to eat them: roasted or out of the bag. ;-)

Re: Having distance from the poem helps but editing it succesfully within a close period of time is possible,...

Anything is possible but when the poem becomes more important than poet then we take steps to insure that the conditions that a poem is conceived in & edited are optimal and conducive to its emergence and growth.

Billy Jones said...

Impossible-- probaby not but few are capable of making successful workshops possible.

Based on my own experiences participating in workshops, there tends to be a dominant individual who takes control of the room and all the poets in that room end up writing verse that could have been written by that one dominant individual.

The other senario I've witnessed is two or more dominant individuals in the same room with very different ideas of what poetry should be with the result being that none leave the room with anything worthwhile to take with them.

Is there someone out there with the skills to run a proper workshop-- probably, but the result of my experience teaches me not to spend my time in workshops and while I've no doubt I've far more than most poets to learn, sadly I'll learn it on my own.

Nick said...

Your post kinda confirms my suspicions. Thanks for voicing it!