Friday, February 23, 2007

A Workshop Poem

William Packard, who taught creative writing in New York for more than 40 years, has a cutting section on workshops in his curmudgeonly, old-school tome The Art of Poetry Writing. I couldn't resist reprinting a poem by Norman Stock that he finds illustrative of their faults:
Thank You for
the Helpful Comments

I sit quietly listening
as they tear my poem to shreds in the poetry workshop
as each one says they have a "problem" with this line
and they have a "problem" with that line
and I am not allowed to speak because that is the
etiquette of the workshop
so I sit listening and writing while they tear the
guts out of my poem and leave it lying bleeding and dead
and when they're finally finished having kicked the
stuffing out of it
having trimmed it down from twenty lines to about four
words that nobody objects to
then they turn to me politely and they say well Norman
do you have any response
response I say picking myself up off the floor and
brushing away the dirt while holding on for dear
life to what I thought was my immortal poem now
dwindled to nothing
and though what I really want to say is can I get my
money back for this stupid workshop what I say
instead is... uh... thank you for your helpful
comments... while I mumble under my breath
motherfuckers wait till I get to your poems
Sad but true. And hilarious.

Stafford's book, by the way, is better than most so-you-want-to-be-a-poet books. He's straightforward, if distant, and he takes a back to basics approach that emphasizes reading and discipline. He's not politically correct, he's not comprehensive, and he has a decidedly Western focus, but his determined attention to the fundamentals sets him apart.

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