Thursday, January 22, 2009

206: PBPF, Day 4

Today is a day for hibernating: a small headache is touring my brain and I have a small stack of books requesting immediate attention, please.

I chose to take Kimiko Hahn's workshop because I'd heard she was a good instructor, that she was tough, and that is exactly what I've needed. I'm learning, though, that it's all about how it's phrased. I need to learn how to process those things: "I love how you...." is saying, "The poem is strongest..." or, as Kimiko says, "Where is the poem most radiant?" She says she loves highlighters, and in this way, we can visually see where it pops, so to speak. She'll tell us that a certain phrase is "not interesting," or "not as interesting as [another phrase]," or that something "doesn't do [the next line / the poem / the preceding lines /etc.] justice." We aren't allowed to nitpick or even firmly edit--"that's [the poet's] problem, not ours." We're not there to edit, but give suggestions. There are many potential drafts, and it seems as if no first draft is a failure, but loaded with potential. Time is strict, tight, and you could be called on even if you seem fully engrossed in re-reading or had slipped out to go to the ladies', so be prepared to have a suggestion, an indication of radiance, a new direction in mind.

We've also been doing the "stealing assignments," where we read a poem (today's: Mark Doty's "A Green Crab's Shell") and consider all the possibilities for creating an assignment. Even if we don't love the poem (and I enjoyed this one), we can still ask ourselves what the poet is doing and how that poet is doing it.

My biggest issue I'm trying to overcome is the second draft, the third, the fourth. I have a fear that I will muck it up even more and maybe not even notice. It's often easier for me, in workshop, to see the possibilities in others' poems, but in my own, it is hard to break away from that first narrative, the first run through. I don't claim to think it's perfect, but I don't want to make it worse.

But in this workshop, there's a lovely attitude of: try three different endings, put it in a drawer. Come back in a week and see which one works.

And why else am I here? Why else am I in an MFA program but to learn to take risks? I just need to remember to put the previous drafts in a folder, and let time do its thing.

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