Franz Wright says that we should speak to everyone ‘as if they had recently died’. I understand his meaning here and think it’s tremendously powerful, subtle, sneaky, almost wanting to wait until you’ve spoken with (very human) spite and anger before making you feel guilty.
But what about speaking to everyone as if we want them, more than anything, acknowledge that they are indeed alive…it’s so very corny but think about that.
Read a very, very interesting essay on this month’s Poets & Writers focusing on the idea of the creative writing workshop that has completely thrown me off. It doesn’t state that they are intrinsically flawed and offer nothing worthwhile, but I do think it raises (many many) very good points about the way these workshops are usually run. I’ll post some of the excerpts I found particularly interesting later on when I have the magazine at hand. It’s certainly made me reconsider how I critique.
In short, you could say that the message was that instructors don’t take over the happenings with enough authority or confidence in their own expertise over that of the students. Patting someone on the head when they’ve written something terrible, whether they are capable of better work or not does no-one any good. It’s a waste of the class’s time, a waste of time for the writer. Whether it’s critique that makes them feel and warm and fuzzy inside doesn’t matter. If it isn’t something truly helpful then why the hell are they all there?
He (the author of the essay, whose name I’ve of course forgotten) says that workshopping should not be about improving writing — that will earn only nicer comments in future workshops, ‘more polite rejections’, he says as well. It should be about, more specifically, ‘transforming’ that writing. The writing in a poem can be absolutely flawless in its polish and craftsmanship, but if the subject and tone are utterly boring or silly, it’s an awful poem. It’s a pile of shit. Likewise, if the kernels of idea in a poem are so potentially explosive yet the writing itself is childish and crude, it’s equally worthless. Both ‘problems’ might be transformed, but we have to make sure that is precisely what happens. . .
Hmm. Excerpts to come, I don’t think I’m communicating his points very well, though I think you get the idea.
Honestly, though, in the particular poetry workshop I’m in now, I’m getting very annoyed and frustrated at times. There are some people who clearly have zero interest in doing anything serious in the class. There are some really bad poems written by people who, though, are really trying, and I have no problem with that. I’m not trying to be arrogant, God knows I have little confidence or pride in my own writing — I don’t have a problem with somebody learning, improving, transforming…I don’t have a problem with someone making almost no progress as long as the effort, the investment is there. What kills me are the people who have no investment. Poems that clearly took five minutes to write when the author has quite literally had weeks to prepare. Luckily these are in the minority, but still.