Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don't Be a Jerk at Workshops

Richard Tillinghast, author of Finding Ireland (among other works of poetry) led a workshop where a few writers critiqued each other's poems. I loved it. Poetry is only fun for me if it's a community thing; I like going to readings and discussing poems in class, but I could never sit down and just read.

 We spent about 20 minutes critiquing the first poem and we had a great discussion and made some insightful critiques. But he didn't write down any of our advice. I think that's incredibly rude. How could he possibly remember everything we said?

What's worse is when someone only writes some of the comments. It basically tells the reader, "This comment is worth remember. The others, not so much."

We were about ready to move on to the next poet when he told us of his inspiration for the poem and how he loves it so much that despite its flaws, he wants to stay true to that inspiration and wouldn't change a thing about it.

This made me furious. If he had no intention of making his poem better, why on earth did he want it to get critiqued? When writer's do this, I they're just using workshops as an opportunity to share their work. That's not what critiques are about. That's for publishing and readings. We aren't there to appreciate him and make him feel warm and fuzzy inside; we're there to reassemble his insides even if it's uncomfortable.

The next poet said something I'll never forget: A poem is never finished. Everytime she reads her poems, she changes something. A poem is a living, breathing entity that evolves as the poet matures. It is like a human being and publication is like a snapshot of a temporary moment in time.

It would be wonderful to keep a first draft of a poem and after years of changes to look back and see how different we are as people.


  1. Personally, I've never been able to get into poetry. I don't have a problem with it and there are some poems that I really like, but most if it is either too hard to read or too hard to understand. I actually love the idea of poetry and the way it can really bring language to life, but I've found that most of it doesn't (at least for me). Maybe I just need someone to discuss it with.

  2. The worst part when someone refuses detailed advice is when the person says with a smile, "Oh, I just wanted to let you say all that because it means so much to you." Never a glass of water around to throw into a person's face when that happens.

  3. No way. I can't believe anyone would say that. Ugh, it takes all kinds.


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