Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Straight Workshoppin

The Sep/Oct issue of Poets & Writers has a curious article by poet and professor John Poch ("Pimp My Writing") in which he compares the workshop he teaches to an episode of MTV's Pimp My Ride. This is awkward, to say the least, though it does yield some interesting, statistically improbable phrases, such as "Did Ezra Pound pimp T.S. Eliot's ride when he helped him with one of the greatest poems of the last century, 'The Waste Land'?"

I don't mind odd comparisons, but in exploring the challenges of a creative writing workshop, Poch manages to find fault in everyone but himself, from the kids on Pimp My Ride ("You know he's going to chop the car up into pieces and sell the parts on eBay. If he doesn't, the stuff's just going to get stolen or smashed by his jealous friends. The kid is probably pretty lazy. Just look at the car he'd been driving.") to Americans in general ("Americans want it easy. We want to win the lottery. We want somebody to pimp our rides for us.") to his students in particular ("What's the solution when a teacher has to confront unimaginative minds?").

I've never met any of Poch's students so I can't confirm whether they're as dim as he thinks. As for Americans, sure many of us want it easy, but so does most of the rest of humanity. And I think it goes without saying that laziness is not the only reason that the kids featured on Pimp My Ride drive busted up cars.

What I can say is that Poch consistently contrasts his own virtues against everybody else's vices. "All I did during the semester was pimp their rides," he says of his students' poems. "And I'm pretty good at it.... I'm like the sound technician who has been working with woofers and tweeters for years.... I can trick out your poem. Shoot, I can even stick some neon lights under the poem's chassis if I put my mind to it." When he remarks on his own faults, it's mostly to show how he has grown past them and become a better person as a result.

In the end, the conclusion Poch comes to isn't a bad one: "Creative writing teachers who want to best teach the art must strike a balance. The teacher must weigh offering suggestions with remaining silent, general discussion with exposure to the masters," he writes. Sure, sounds great. But the best creative writing teachers are also those who don't go into the workshop assuming that all of their students are a bunch of lazy, entitled, unimaginative morons.


Pete said...

I read that article, too, and agree with you. If the author thinks that young people who want to pursue a career in poetry are "taking the easy way out", then he's simply delusional. (And elitist, too, given that he mocks the young guy on TV for his beater of a car, which may be all that he can afford, and not a sign of laziness.) Given the meager material rewards facing such aspirants over the course of their artistic lives, I'd applaud those people for taking on such a huge challenge. (They certainly show more guts and initiative than I have in pursuing my banking career.)

Maybe these "lazy" and "unimaginative" students simply just need a gentle push in the right direction which the author should surely be able to provide, given what a brilliant teacher he claims to be.

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