Thursday, April 30, 2009

Self-censoring a First Draft

I offer two rules for this:
2. DO IT

in that order.
First, as a beginning writer, an inexperienced writer at any age, it is essential that you not edit yourself as your write. Put it all down. Leave nothing out. The reason is simple: You are in the zone and don't want to miss out on anything, don't want to be limited. You will have plenty of time to revise, edit, censor later. Do not deviate from this.

Well, don't deviate until you have reached a more accomplished stage in your writing. At some point you may know and understand your own voice, may have worked in it enough so that you know what you are doing as you do it. At this point you may have read and learned enough about poetry so that you know what to cull on the fly. This is a much more efficient way to write than to write down all the claptrap you once needed to include and excise later when you could better make decisions. If you are not comfortable doing this, don't risk it. For my money you can't really get away with it during your first ten or so years of hard writing work. When you reach that point, don't bother any longer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Best Use of a Poetry Mentor, parts 1-2 or 3

This has two parts because my use of a mentor had two parts, actually three, that were distinct. I emphasize from the last entry that a long relationship with a single mentor can be really productive. Initially I submitted poems, we worked them over, I revised the poems, we worked them over again and repeated the process until the poems were as fully realized as they could be at the time. This was a grueling process and hugely educational. The more you learn about writing and the way you write the more you will eliminate bad writing from your drafts (more later about the notion that you shouldn't self-censor in the earliest stages of a draft). This phase of being mentored lasted several years and was indispensable. In the second phase I did much less revising and preferred to take what I was learning from my mentor (Baron Wormser) and apply it to my future poems. Keep in mind that at this time my poems were coming fairly rapidly and I felt that each new one was better than whatever came before. I rarely returned to the mentoring with the same poems again. The most recent stage came about both because I was evolving satisfactorily and because I was low on money. In this stage I worked with the mentor only occasionally, often less than once every six months, and usually with a batch of poems in which I had a specific interest. We have achieved a stage of marvelous mutual regard and friendship and there is nothing I won't show him or that he won't say about my poems-- good, bad or ugly. It has taken more than a decade to arrive at this.

In the next post I will discuss the pros and cons of self-censoring an initial draft.
So long for now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where to get what doesn't come in workshops

It is imperative to have someone who can read any poem you want and critique it. This is not family, not ever. This should be someone whom you trust, someone who knows poetry and someone who will not mince words but shoot straight even if it kills the poem. For those who have the bucks there are good poets in the business of mentoring. I have worked off and on for years with Baron Wormser. I don't know if he is taking students now. The poets offering their services often charge a rate that includes reading and preparing comments on your poem or selection of poems followed by either an online or telephonic hour of discussion. Typically they want a continuing series of sessions regularly scheduled over time. I have seen charges from $25 to $100 per session. Failing that, seek out someone who has taught courses, workshops or who has read in your area and see if they are available. Failing even that, go to another writer and offer to exchange the service for each other. Have patience with the process of finding a reader/critic. It is often a long search to find someone sufficiently compatible. The payoff is that the relationship may last a very long and productive time.
In the next post I will discuss how I make best use of my mentor.
So long for now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Reason to Go to Workshops

Although it will sound so, this is not a self-help, feel good thing. It is, however, true. After exhausting myself of ways to get something out of the workshops I decided that I was going at it ass backwards and chose to give as much as I could. If the workshop required submitting work to be critiqued I picked something I was interested in working on but did not go in committed to getting anything specific but rather to be as selfless and committed to giving others all the help I could once I got there. Any help I received was a bonus. This was a breakthrough. I enjoyed the workshops much more and gained a far deeper appreciation of the others in the group and the work they were doing. I did not find them any better as poets but I did find them genuinely interested and harder working than I had given them credit for. The payoff for me has been and remains that I have learned to read my own poems more critically and that, despite my somewhat jaundiced attitude, I have learned to be a far better coach, teacher and writer than I otherwise might have been. So, my advice is that beyond the first couple you attend if you want to enroll in workshops, enroll for what you can give, not what you can get.

In the next post I will discuss where to go to get the help not provided by workshops.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why not to workshop, part 2

This is really about why not to expect to get much from a workshop and is meant for those who have gone to more than two. The real reason is that if you're paying attention and maturing as a poet then workshops won't offer much. End of story. Because they operate at the lowest common denominator you will have to find your growth elsewhere. I learned after two or three workshops that I should never go expecting to get something, expecting to be given something. Thus, my next step was to plan exactly what I wanted to get as opposed to what might be offered. This relieved me from paying too much attention and allowed me to focus upon what I wanted. Of course, it didn't work that well and I was disappointed although I never left without gaining something tangible, usually from a lecture by a visiting writer; this was not enough alone to justify the expense. I also found myself unhappy putting up with those participants who made up the lower half that reduced the common denominator. They were honest,decent and tried hard. But they were not poets.
My next move made all the difference in the world. It will be detailed in my next post.
So long for now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why not to workshop, part 1

The first reason is that after the first couple they become formulaic and encourage formulaic writing. It's simple: Hook the reader with the opening, take a few turns, end with a surprise. The reason for this is simple: most of the people in the workshops don't "get" poetry, never will. But most of them are intelligent enough to learn some craft and well-crafted lousy poems are IN. Also, without lots of pretenders, who is going to support the writers running the workshops, many of whom are in fact pretty good poets? Anyway, I noticed after several workshop experiences that on looking back at my old poetry I was writing better but without the same passion. I asked poet Peter Liotta (a genuinely good poet of the highest order) how to retrieve the passion and he urged me to get out of the workshops; I had done enough of them. That was the last workshop I ever went to with the intention or hope of getting anything from them. The advice has proved itself excellent.

Next post-- part 2
So long for now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Workshops-- the pros

Twenty or so years ago I had my first workshop experience. It was an informal meeting with two other writers looking for people to workshop with and I was put in contact with one of them by Hugh Ogden who I had known since my college days. The three of us worked well together and managed to continue for a couple of years mostly monthly but with longer breaks. This prepared me for my first formal workshop at The Robert Frost Festival of Poetry at The Frost Place in Franconia, NH. My first year there I learned how to be there, the second year there was transcendent. I finally "got" poetry. I encourage all poets to get to formal, genuine workshops sometime early in their careers. It is good to find such communities and helps de-sterilize the environment we work in. Great launch pads! And now a note of caution-- There are a lot of reasons not to attend workshops. I'll begin to tell you what they are in the next post.
So long for now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coming Soon...

I have an abundance of posts ready to go. Several deal with the good and bad of workshops, how to get the most from workshops, what I think is wrong with poetry in America how poets ought to be writing and the like. I will be somewhat controversial but hopefully never adversarial. Despite the things I have ready to go I want you to help me determine the direction of this blog and so I will be very considerate of your opinions and requests.

Also, I want to include the occasional review of books of poetry, preferably new and interesting books. There is a paucity of interest in poetry and books of poetry and reviews of books of poetry generally and I hope to help correct that in some small way here.

That's pretty much the promise of things to come. I will begin by writing about writing and the creative process as I know and understand it; then segue into workshops-- my favorite and least favorite way to learn about writing poetry. And then...THE STARS.

So long for now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who do you trust? Why me?

Who do you trust?  Why me?


Let's assume you don't know me and I hope you don't because then you are new to me.  I can tell you of my publishing credits, education, teaching experience, work history and give a bio but in cyberspace I can tell you anything and may be a damned liar and telling you stuff may not make me credible.  Enough to say I have publishing credits here and abroad, am educated, have teaching experience, have worked and am a damned truth teller.  Otherwise, consider the poet:  we look for his/her voice and I urge you to examine my voice on this blog.  Does it ring true?  Do you find what I say resonant with your experience?  Are you learning something?  Do the links work?


It will take little time to determine whether you find me genuine.  I've read that seconds is all I have in a blog to get your attention and failing that you are off to another to discern whether he/she is a liar or truth teller or just more interesting whether a liar or not.  So give us both a break.  Take several posts to heart and let them give you the measure of me.  I'll warrant you'll find me credible.


Next post-- an approximate idea of what's to come