Chautauqua and Some Notes on the Workshop

Today marked the end of the first week at the Chautauqua Institution, a place where I take writing workshops every summer.  This past week, I worked under poet Neil Shepard in an advanced poetry workshop, and I have to say that it was the most invigorous  “poetic workout”  I have had in a long time.  I’ve been a bit down with my work, mostly because I can’t seem to really get some of my poems “just right.”  (And no, I don’t think that is because I am a perfectionist).  This workshop was geared towards advanced writers and we worked on everything from literary allusions to line/stanza breaks to content to imagery.  All in ONE WEEK!  I am walking away thinking about my own work in a variety of new and different ways.  I especially enjoyed the extra feedback about the form of my poems.  I know that I tend to go crazy with enjambment (Sharon Olds, anyone?), so what Neil and the members of my group had to say was very beneficial.

There was something that did happen this week, however, that left me thinking about the workshop/audience format.  I will not provide links to other sites about pros and cons of the workshop format — we all know what people are saying.  However, I am wondering, if we are the best judge of our own work.  In my experience, often what people say in a workshop setting simply echoes what I am thinking down deep inside about a particular piece of work.  Many times workshop members can articulate the questions and concerns about a specific line or image or conclusion.  This week, however, something different happened — I was going to take out a specific image in one of my poems that, to be honest, I didn’t really like.  However, every one in my group including Neil thought that it was a great image.  Am I being too critical about my work?  Should I be sending out more pieces than I do? (I tend to want to be 100 percent sure about a poem before I send it out — that takes a long time).  Should we always have readers for our poems before they get sent out?  These are some of the questions I have been thinking about this afternoon as I weed through my drafts in order to settle down to do some more revising. 


1 Comment »

  1. While I don’t advocate sending out rough drafts, you should definitely submit more — 100% sure is an awfully high bar! Besides, sometimes it’s only after my poem’s been visiting an editor’s slush pile for a while that I can look at it with fresh eyes — having it out in the world helps me forget it.

    I don’t have time for writer’s groups anymore, and have only taken part in one short workshop, but I found it very true that they tended to simply confirm my own misgivings about a piece. That said, I’m still very interested in the Dzanc sessions; working independently as I have for many years can be a lonely business, and sometimes I crave feedback & dialogue about my poems.

    Chautauqua sounds great — hope your next week is as productive!

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