The workshop conversation regarding critique and how we may learn from each other, provide new lenses with which to observe our own work was such a prod to me that I chose to take a tact that I have done before: I distributed copies of one of my own poems that is particularly troubling me and assigned the homework for the week – rewrite the poem. I instructed the workshop members to take full liberty. They were to read the poem and try to find a better way for the poem to reach its potential. There were no restrictions on how to do this.
I have done this before, mostly with introductory classes after I have driven home the revision process and its value. I have received comments from colleagues that this is “brave,” “courageous,” even “How can you do that? I never could.”
I don’t see why this is so brave? I want to drive home a number of points: I am just as prone to be stymied by a poem and the best way out is someone else’s perspective on the poem itself and as well as their sense of the craft; although we honor the work, it is not so sacred that we can’t let people play in it a little bit; and the process of discovery is the point. If I grant permission to mess it up, then have at it with hole heart and see what may be found.
Additionally, in having to reinterpret a poem, or to reflect the style of another poet, one gains as well. Having to respond to a poem by another writer in this way eliminates the emotional attachment that blocks some writers from comprehensive revision. The habit of revision must be cultivated and this is a fine exercise to support that cultivation, or so I believe. Plus, I am not so attached to my poem that I mind new interpretations. If I do not find anything that I value in the comments, it is my choice to not employ them, as is always the case with workshop comments. We, the poets, must always listen and then determine which of the comments support the essence of the poem, if any, and then make some changes based on what was gleaned.
I am looking forward to the results of the assignment. We will meet on Thursday for our last session of the summer. We will compare and contrast all of the interpretations of my poem and I will listen well. Then maybe I will distill all the comments in a way that I find the success that has eluded me thus far. I will report out to the blogosphere later in the week and share what resulted from this little foray.
Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.