Monday, August 22, 2005

Then We Were Ten

Yesterday was our workshop's monthly meeting. The group now numbers ten, and guess what, yesterday ten people showed up! We met at a home in Kensington, and we were all glad (especially me) to see the sun. That may have been the only thing we all agreed on. Well, we also agreed that it was exhausting and overwhelming to workshop ten poems (many of them long) in one afternoon. We timed it, but we could not keep to our timing. We took short breaks, then sat down quickly. I kept on hoping for haiku.

Various people had been talking about trying to improve or retool our meetings so that we all saw the big picture instead of concentrating on this word or that line break. There were a few attempts at going big picture and some dismal failures, such as when my own poem was hijacked by someone's interpretation and everyone got on that plane. Grrr. Mostly (I thought) there wasn't time to do big anything. If each of us spoke for one minute, the total time for that poem would be two-thirds gone.

It was disconcerting to some that that there was so little agreement--and yet--I thought of Little Emerson. As many know, the editors of Little Emerson have yet to agree on one submission. With that in mind, is it so strange that some of our number should think this line is perfect while others think it is too much, some see satire where others see stereotype, some like seeing the bones of the thought process and others are horrified that is "non-organic"?

Meantime, Robert said, "I know this sounds hopelessly corny, but I really don't think people ever learn anything unless they feel loved (for lack of a better word) by the person they're learning from." I think this is an interesting theory... I personally wish that we could separate our feelings (about each other?) from our thoughts about the poems. I know I am fiercely competitive, have an ugly, ugly green streak of envy. I hope to improve, some day, to be more detached....

9 comments:

louise said...

i think i know what Robert means... when we feel loved we know that person has our best interest at heart, and it makes it easy to learn because we trust them.

That Robert. What a sweetie. You'd be a great teacher Robert!

Diane K. Martin said...

Yes. He is and he would.

d-

Robert said...

Or else I'd get sued for harassment, hehe.

Anne said...

A couple of things here really resonated with me. First, the attempt to "see the big picture" -- I get frustrated with this in my own group and wonder whether it maybe something especially common in peer-critique groups. With a teacher/leader, you have someone who can assume an air of authority (for better or worse) and try to pull the group out of the "fiddling with line breaks" muck and mire. I don't know. It doesn't bother me when a group can't come to consensus; sometimes the discussion and explanation of the different points of view tells me more about my poem than I would learn if everyone agreed. It does bother me when the back-and-forth about a word or an interpretation or a freakin' comma takes over the whole discussion, and this seems to happen a lot.

On feeling loved by the person you're learning from -- I agree with this SO MUCH. But it's a very particular kind of "love" -- it's the kind where someone respects you enough to kick your butt from one side of the room to the other if that's what you need. While there's been a lot of love in the peer-critique groups I've been in, there's something that happens in a teacher-led workshop when this kind of love is present that is just -- it's scary good. I've had two workshops that felt like this and I'd give anything to have that for just a few days every year. It's a respect thing, and it's also trusting that the person you're learning from will love you even if -- especially if! -- you bring in work that fails because you were trying to reach beyond your grasp. It's a kind of love that encourages, this sounds really weird, failure; that makes it feel safe to take risks and fail, knowing that you're learning something from the failure. I know it's a good workshop when I'm willing to take new risks with the work I bring in. I think in this sense love & risk are both essential to the process.

(I have no idea if that makes any sense or not -- it's stuff I'm just beginning to articulate.)

Diane K. Martin said...

Anne, thanks for bringing your perspective to the discussion. I do think that part of the problem is just that with a peer-run group you don't have the authority and the direction that you do if someone standing up there says...whatever. So-and-so says this or that is the problem and I'm apt to think, well who died and made you king?

I also think we need to state our thoughts about something and move on--not necessarily line up on one side or another of an issue or worry it to death until the poet says uncle or until a solution is reached. We need to point out the problems and trust the poet to find the solution--if there is one.

Robert said...

Thanks, Anne, for such a thoughtful comment! I'd be interested hearing more about your experiences that were "scary good." It's funny how much it changes the dynamics when there's a group leader. It almost makes me want to draw straws and have a rotating leader ("OK, Diane, you're our group's king for the next six months"). I'm kidding, but only 99% kidding.

I agree about wanting the kind of relationship "where someone respects you enough to kick your butt," or at least (as I guess I'd put it) where you're so sure of someone's deep respect for you that their criticism doesn't make you defensive. I think what you say about feeling safe to take risks is maybe the most important thing.

Anne said...

Diane, I think your point about trusting the poet is crucial. I don't know about your group, but in mine sometimes it does seem like a battle to be won or lost! And really, once the poet knows that "some people think it's important to know the car is green and some people think the detail is intrusive" -- does it really matter how each member weighs in on the issue, or whether it reminds them of another poem about cars they read once?

Robert, both of my "scary good" experiences were in week-long summer workshops -- one many years ago at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in a workshop led by Michael Carey, and the other was just this summer in Provincetown in D.A. Powell's workshop. I need to think more about what it was that made them so good (though I blogged about this summer's workshop pretty extensively while I was there & immediately after, I think it's time to look back on it a bit) and how it was that I felt safe enough to take big risks. I think, too, that the experience of being in a room full of strangers who will be together for a week & then likely never see each other again makes a different kind of risk-taking possible, something that's really hard in a long-term group.

Robert said...

I went back and read your blog, Anne, and it sure sounds like you had a fantastic workshop in Provincetown. Let's see, you said D.A. Powell was incredibly generous, encouraged everyone to take risks, and encouraged everyone to read their poems out loud in the shower. You also said in a future post you would talk about why a good workshop is like good, slightly kinky sex, but I'm not sure you ever did. Maybe you did all get together and read your poems out loud in the shower!

Anne said...

Robert - nothing but good clean fun for that workshop! *grin*