Danger: Poets at work
In the USA there are many Creative Writing Courses (MFA programs). These
courses have been accused of churning out homogenised writers. But in
poetry groups where there's no teacher to dictate matters, is there a
problem? I think that potentially there are several.
- Workshops can help writers to appreciate how others respond to their work.
This is useful, especially if a writer's been working in isolation and wants to
be published. However, you should avoid writing merely to please the group
unless you consider the group to be a fair sample of your intended audience.
Don't do what others say just because they said it; a poem "designed by committee"
is unlikely to be very good. Stay in control.
- Avoid being pigeon-holed. Use the workshop as a way to experiment.
- Beware of certain workshop types: the haters of any obscurity; the
ruthless stickler for formal regularity, etc. They may miss the point.
- Beware of a group's low expectations. Some groups are a retreat
for those who've tried (but failed) to break into the world of literature,
and they may discourage you from trying.
- Don't take praise too seriously. "I think that when everyone in the group, including the professor, says `Now it's OK', you're bound to end up with something dreadful". (Kiran Desai, The Times (Higher), Aug. 15, 1997).
- Workshops are good at improving bad poems, bringing them up to an
acceptable (even publishable) standard, but not very useful with non-standard
good poems. Rules may help beginners avoid blunders, but beyond that
they may not help.
- Don't get ground down. Preserve the individuality of your poems. But
don't think that because only you understand the poems that they're
unique and therefore valuable.
Updated January 2004