Sunday, March 2, 2008

Workshop? Part One

Having read Dan Barden's essay in the recent issue of Poets and Writiers, like Heather Christie at The Kenyon Review Blog,
I had a strong reactin to some of his feelings about teaching the workshop class. I must admit, however, that after teaching writing for over ten years now, in settins as varies as a third grade classroom to a university, I agreed with a lot of what he had to say. There is definitely a mindset that students come with when they enter a writing classroom--one that sets students up to fail or to feel bitter or attached if they're met with a "tradition" (i.e. OLD) workshop method.

On anonymous evaluations about my writing classes, students often wrote things like "less busy work, like writing in the journals and doing reading responses about poems and stuff" or "I felt like some people who read my work didn't understand me and weren't helpful" or "How can a poet tell me anything useful about my fiction?" Frankly, these types of responses were my fault, as I was employing a model that I, myself, had hated as a student. Since my early years teaching I think I've found a way into the workshops now, which has come from my triumphs and failures, and from more experience in the classroom.

My own workshop experience as a student fit all of the stereotypes, I'm afraid. A small handfull of us felt consistently attachked--felt like others were trying to get our work to look like theirs. This was offset only once in my experience; one shining moment when I thought I might make it through this workshop crap and leave and start fresh. I had written a poem that was way out of the norm for me. Recently inspired by IOVIS by Anne Waldman, I wrote a poem of several pages withy blurred speaker vocies and bits of dialogue and screenplaty exposition along with strange rhymning couplets. I was experimenting. . . trying to do something different. I was trying to discover my voice--trying to transform myself and my work. Immediately the group began "workshopping" my poem with stuff like "You can't do this in a poem" and so on. It hurt. People had missed what I was trying to do and weren't interested in helping to get me where I wanted to go; they seemed only interested in getting my work to be 'recognizeable' to them. At the end of this bloodbath in which my teacher said not much due to the "democratic" nature of the process, one student, whose poems I admired very much, said "before moving on, I thik we should recognize the vivid experimentation here, and I want to congratulate the writer on going to a place like this with her work. I think it's very exciting." I've never forgotten that moment because it gave me a bit of light in an otherwise dark experience.

This helped me to realize how important it is to know the work of t he writers in the room with you. For beginner students, this allows them to understand why some writers are approaching the work from a particular perspective. Participants can then look at their own work from multiple perspectives, but still embrace their own goal for a piece they're working on.

I thought Dan Barden's essay was funny, sassy, and tragic. He's right about a lot of things. . . but I'll get to those in tomorrow's post.


Temporary Home

This blogsite is our temporary home while our website undergoes an extreme makeover of epic proportions (shifted septums, pacemakers, calf implants, dialysis, a fancy wig, contacts -- the works).

This was our old home, and while it is a bit dated, it's a good source of info regarding recent issues and the history of Prism Review.

Updates will follow regarding our new home. ETA summer 2009.