Being in the first round of workshops, I’ve spent the week picking through this summer’s sparse drafts, trying to decide if it is disingenuous to try and spruce one up just a few days in advance.
I have found it helpful to resist the urge to bring my ‘best’ or favorite poem of the moment for critique. You don’t need to impress anyone, especially if trying to do so is going to limit your growth. It can be helpful, of course, to workshop a ‘favorite’ – if you’re too close to something you don’t see its flaws, and a good workshop-and-revision can push a good poem into ‘great’ territory.
For me, it’s a matter of being realistic. Am I going to take criticism well? If not, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. This is less a case of me being super defensive about certain poems as it the fact that there are certain subjects that I treat rather preciously, and while they may need (major) refining, I have to make a call on whether or not I’m going to do that through a workshop, or on my own time. I’ve come to think that, while all poems can benefit from a workshop eventually, some are too early in their lifespan. I’d rather let them develop a little more first.
Then there are the times you bring something you know you need help with; the trouble poems. Maybe you’re frustrated and you’re looking forward to seeing it dissected for all its flaws – that can be fun. Or maybe you’ve got a poem that you’re nearly ready to give up on, and are banking on the possibility of someone else being able to tell you what to do with it.
All of these are equally legitimate candidates for workshop, in my opinion. However, I am here to speak as a proponent of that strange and specific kind of poem that has surprised me again and again by coming into its own through workshop:
The dead-end poem.
They’re the ones I don’t expect to go anywhere; the ones that get thrown down as a warm-up or forgotten about for months. My least favorite children, if you will. I don’t know what it is about them, but again and again the best and most satisfying revisions have come from those underdogs. The accidental successes. Maybe it’s because I’m not so caught up in what I’m trying to do, or that I’m more open to making changes based on critique. I’ve also theorized that, for me at least, it feels more authentic when I stumble into meaning. In any case, the ‘dead ends’ are very often not dead ends at all.
I’m always interested to see what people bring into workshop. I think it says something about what you want for your writing, what you want to gain.
What do you guys think – do you like to bring in the sensitive stuff, what you’ve agonized over? Or do you bring the poems you hate
just to have the satisfaction of other people agreeing with you in the hopes that you’ll glean some ideas on how to fix them?
What do you bring to workshop?