Workshop Methods & Experience

I don’t want to cold call anyone out here, but this is specifically a question for people who have been in other (poetry or otherwise) workshops before, especially those run by another professor. As a person taking their first workshop (and probably my last due to the amount of classes I still need to take to graduate on time D’: ), I’m just curious as to what you may do differently when looking at other students’ work in other workshops. People who took poetry with Prof. Winrock– how did her style differ from Lytton’s? I just want to know what other ways you all have looked at poetry in academic settings, because arguably the more points of view we have of editing our work, the better.

Modified Exercise I Should Have Posted A Month Ago

Hi friends!

So if you haven’t yet looked at the poems being workshopped tomorrow (or if you’re on your game, try to do this for the ones being workshopped next week), it might be fun to try this exercise. Try not to look at the poem, not even the format of it on the page, and read the poetic statement. As you read the poetic statement, jot down 3 or 4 things you are expecting of this poem, maybe it’s content related, a structure you think lends really well to what the poet is speaking of, or a question you expect to be answered by the poem. Then, read the poem and see how it aligns with your thinking. By doing this, we are completely eliminating the possibility of the poem itself swaying our views of what it should accomplish, and might even allow us to give more objective advice for revisions.

For an extra challenge, try and write a few lines of the type of poem you expect after reading the poetic statement and compare that to what the poet has actually written.

See you all in the morning! 🙂

The Feminist in Me Says The Personal is Political

I was thinking about how we were talking about politics and poetry the other day, how we sometimes get carried away in the social justice issues that rise out of poems in workshop. I’ve realized that this is what keeps poetry alive, if a poem doesn’t raise any issues that readers are passionate about or that are pertinent to their lives, they wouldn’t continue to be read. Every poem is political.

In my Leslie Marmon Silko class, we often chuckle about Silko’s intentions when writing a book. After finishing her nearly 800 page epic in 1999 that took her 10 years to write, Silko said she wanted to write a leisurely story about a girl and gardens, no politics involved. This however, turned into a nearly 500 page book centered around the hybridization and commodification of flowers. Silko realized that gardens were very political. One can just look around this campus and see how everything is planted for a (capitalist) purpose. The paths on this campus aren’t the quickest, straightest shot ways to get places, and you can often see footpaths students make over grass, mulch, and even flowers.

Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the personal is always going to be political. And if the writer can’t find the politics in it, some reader out there is going to. Poetry does not exist in a vessel, we’re always going to treat poetry as both social commentary and a historical piece of the time it was written. Putting poetry into context, especially when so many poems have a myriad of interpretations, is going to end up with readers seeing the politics in them, regardless of if that was intended by the writer or not.

The Collective Poem

The poetry exercise this week was about putting people in conversation with one another in a poem, and I started thinking about this concept in a more literal sense. When I was involved in slam, group pieces were often the most appreciated and told the most complex stories. I have always wondered how this would transfer to the page. Do poets ever write something together and also present it together? I feel like page poetry is such an individualized craft, although one could argue that slam is as well.

I wrote one spoken word piece (kind of between slam and page poetry) with friends. We came with our own poems on the same topic and literally cut and pasted our words together. Has anyone ever tried this with page poetry? Is having a second poet involved just too much to deal with and still be able to make something both parties find authentic?

This is my favorite (youth) group slam piece:

From Stage to Page (and back again?)

I started doing competitive slam poetry at the age of 14. I didn’t have any actual poetry background, as teachers in school just told us to write poetry without explaining anything about craft or what makes a poem effective. I learned through watching others slam that all it took was a compelling subject (usually with some controversial aspect involved), vivid imagery, and some passion to weave together a piece. Add the “poet stance” (always rocking forward to your tiptoes), a cadence that could be identified as your own, and some deliberately placed dramatic choreography, and people were telling me that I was a promising poet. I won some local competitions, slammed in a regional bout where I beat people from big city teams like Baltimore and D.C, and found myself part of Delaware’s 6-person team in the quarterfinal rounds at Brave New Voices 2011, performing in venues all over Oakland and San Francisco and included in an HBO documentary. While the slam poetry scene diminished in my area as I finished up the rest of high school, one of my few goals for college was to compete (and make a splash) at CUPSI.

Fast-forward to today, and I haven’t performed in 6 months and haven’t written a slam piece I’m actually proud of in over a year. I realized that I was too obsessed with “being good” and winning. I started writing certain things into my poetry just because I knew they would get points (talk about domestic or sexual abuse, use ribcages, hang yourself from a noose, get emotional on stage) instead of writing poetry for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting, but poets are supposed to reveal their true selves, coaches always told me to be vulnerable on stage. I realized that I was only pretending to do these things, shying away from topics that actually affected me in the name of securing 10s and high placements. I decided to take a break from slam to reevaluate why I was actually writing. When I took creative writing here at Geneseo and entered the world of poetry in an academic setting, I started looking at everything differently. At first it was really hard for me to make the transition back to page poetry from slam. In slam, as long as what you’re doing evokes feeling, nobody cares where your line (or rhythm/cadence) breaks are or whether you rely on abstractions. Seeing page poetry from an academic setting has just made me that much more critical of slam. I want to return to the world of slam competitions, I met some of the most intelligent, diverse, and accepting people through slam communities, but sometimes I feel like I’m so critical and jaded at this point, that I don’t know if I ever can return to that community that grew me.

Does anyone else have trouble taking slam seriously after focusing on the nuances of page poetry? Any advice for reconciling the two?