we had to write wisdom for writer as teacher. here is my wisdom. i am imparting it to you.
When it comes down to it, one of the great things about poetry is the fact that it’s essentially abstraction. That this is as close as writing gets to abstraction. I am saying that if literature was New York City in the late 1940’s, you bitches would be all Willem de Kooning and shit. This is the way we go about it. We can be direct or indirect. We can use any form we want. We can use whatever structure best gets it across. Everybody knows poems don’t have to rhyme or conform to a specific structure to be called poems. You have nothing to be afraid of. So write a poem.
Don’t bring in anything to workshop that you aren’t ready to have talked about. In theory you know what I am talking about. We all have poems we are too close to. People offer us help and our immediate reaction is to explain why they are wrong. This helps nobody. We are not those people. Those people who help nobody. We are here to make our poems the best poems ever.
Sometimes you write a poem and you think to yourself THIS IS NOT THE BEST THING EVER I AM TERRIBLE. No you are not. We all have terrible things we have done. File that shit away in a folder marked UH OH? and look at it in a few months. Worst case scenario is you delete it out of shame. Best case scenario is it’s like finding a map to awesomeness that you wrote in your sleep and lost and found again and it led you straight to awesomeness.
When talking about work in a workshop, we are going to talk about the poem and what is on the page. We are going to say what we think is working and why, and we are going to say what we think is not working and why. We are going to try to talk about what the poem is trying to accomplish and the best possible ways for it to do that better. We are going to try to not talk about much else.
When you hit the point in a poem where you do not know what to do and start freaking out, save the document and put it away for a week or two. Try real hard not to do something unless you have a solid idea of what you are doing and what you want to do. This way you avoid the weeks of agony of having no idea what you are doing and trying desperately to fix things. This is a lot like being set on fire and running around in a linen closet exclaiming that you are on fire. Best sit yourself down in the bathtub and have a think.
Other times, maybe just keep writing until something happens, and if it does then that is called a breakthrough, and if it does not then that is called life and we go to bed and try again in the morning, or maybe when we have a better idea, like later on, after sitting in the tub and having us a think, or maybe in the morning we see that we did a good thing and all that worrying was just silly and got our heartrates up and made us write terrible panicked emails to friends and loved ones and instructors.
It is always a good idea to look at your work and figure out what it is that you are not doing, and then write poems about that. Me, I like to write poems sometimes without using “I” or having weird surreal shit happen, or maybe not let myself use images I use way too much.
On a related note, figure out what kind of poems you don’t know how to write and then write them. Always try to work on something that is outside your general interests/what you consider to be your “body of work”. This keeps you nimble and also presents you with a widened image bank/vernacular/trick moves to then fold into your “body of work” making it super formidable.
Formidable is something we should all of us aspire to be.
Don’t every worry about turning in a bad poem but do fucking worry if you think about turning in a poem you don’t care about.
Wallace Stevens once said that poets are born not made. Gordon Lish once said "I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire."
One is an asshole and the other was an insurance salesman.
We are trying to say here that being really good is great but that if you don’t work your fucking ass off every second of every day then all you are is a lazy asshole squandering talent.
Find yourself a real smart lady or gentleman that will help edit the shit out of your work. Also nice is that when you read them a poem you become real aware of if it’s awesome or not, because you are trying to sleep with them, and you want your poems to be awesome enough for them to also want to sleep with you. This way everybody wins.
Sometimes you gotta take a day off. So maybe take a day off.