Thursday, January 24, 2013

Should I Go to a Writing Workshop?

If you like to write and you like people and you enjoy new experiences and you can afford it, then, sure, check out a writing workshop.  They can be very good, awesomely good, in helping you get the stories out.  They can also be staggeringly bad.  A workshop that is awesomely good for one person can be staggeringly bad for another.  Humans are different and our learning needs and motivations vary widely.  If you find the right teacher for you, the experience is magical, moving, and transcendent.  Lights suddenly shine in dusty corners.

There are two kinds of workshops.
  1. PRIMARILY READING  Bring enough copies of your more-or-less finished poem and submit it to the group.  You read your poem.  The group goes around making comments.  You listen to the feedback without responding.  After everyone has finished making their helpful suggestions, you can speak (if you haven't thrown yourself out a window).  Repeat the process for everyone present.
  2. PRIMARILY WRITING  The leader introduces a theme or a lesson and gives everyone time to write.  After the time is up, you can share what you've written.
I've been to three writing workshops, all part of a major literary festival.  One of each of the two above, and third where the leader seemed predominantly interested in showing pictures of the new baby she was co-parenting with her female partner.
I learned that I'm more interested in the writing variety than the read-and-critique variety.  My first (and last) read-and-critique workshop was run by a former poet laureate of the USA whose poetry deals mostly with looking out his window or walking his dog.  The poem I read began like this: 

“Stop smashing glass!!”
“I’m angry."  He said,  "What do you want me to do?”
“When you’re angry,”  I said, “go dig a hole.”
So he began to dig          and dig          and dig.

Although I referred to the smasher in the poem as the husband of the speaker, the workshop leader seemed to miss that point and thought I was yelling at a child.  "Who else," he said, "would smash glass?"

That didn't go well.  While he was a very fine poet, he might not be my ideal reader.
I'm happy about one thing.  For the last class, we were asked to write an ekphrasis:  a poem based on a work of art.  I wrote this:

The Honeymoon

In Chagall's Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower,
they're carried away by sheer rooster power.
She wears a white gown and has a blue fan --
and holding her belly, the arms of her man.

Angels surround them and one plays a fiddle;
one hangs upside down, with his upside down candles,
and lodged in the tree, a goat is part-cello --
he waves a baton and carries a fellow.

Bride and groom number two are nestled in clouds
under the chupah reciting their vows
while an angel soars skyward holding her flowers
in Chagall's Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower

I was redeemed by the class's applause.  The poet added, "As soon as the audience realizes that your poem rhymes, they relax."

And they don't have to worry about the broken glass.

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