Q & A on the poetry workshop

In response to my post about the writing workshop opportunity I am contemplating, my friend, artist and poet Lorrie Lane, sent a series of clarifying questions to me via Facebook. Here are her questions and my answers:
1. Why are you writing poems? It can’t be for the money – hahaha.
I write poems because I have something to say. A large part of the turn to poetry for me was losing my will/venue/capability to write church music, coupled with an extraordinary opportunity to study “Women Who Run With the Wolves” with Yvonne Lucia and a wonderful group of women.
2. What are you trying to say that can’t be said in an essay?
Essays are lovely, but some ideas and images live much better in poetic form. I love the concentration of language and meaning in poems. I also love the greater room for the reader/listener to enter the poem. Essays tend to report or expound on the views of the author, I often try to leave some mystery in my poems – to give space for the reader to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the poem, although I am finding that some readers and editors do not like this approach.
3. Are you trying to talk to others, yourself, or both?
I write both for myself and for others, sometimes at the same time and sometimes not. There are some poems I write that will probably never be shared, although a couple of poems that started out that way have been seen by at least a few others.
4. How much risk are you willing to take? Will you risk exposing your flaws, your weakness, your guilty pleasures, your loves, your infidelities, your hatreds, your selfishness, your gullibility, your foolishness, your vulnerabilities? and by ‘you’ I certainly mean ‘y’all.
While I am not by nature a risktaker, I am willing to take a calculated risk as long as the threat of harm isn’t dire. The things most at risk would be my pride and my sense of competence, but I think I am mature enough now to shake it off if things go badly. In the second question, there are some of those attributes that I would risk writing about my/y’all’s experience, but some that I would choose not to. For example, I don’t think I could write credibly about infidelities, possibly not about hatred or selfishness, either. It’s hard for me to write about things I don’t understand well and I think it would show if I tried.
5.  Are you more interested in manipulating words or manipulating ideas?
I don’t think I am interested in manipulating at all. I use words to evoke ideas, but I am not wedded to others’ ideas being identical to mine.
6.  What inspires you? Would going to a workshop be inspirational or kind of boring?
I draw inspiration from random everyday encounters and from personal history that can take a long time to distill into a poem. I think that the setting of this workshop is one of the things that draws me to it. It is in a familiar place with ties to personal and family history, but it has been transformed into this arts community. Interestingly, I have a first draft of a poem that I wrote about the work of a particular artist when we visited MASS MoCA a couple of years ago. I think that the combination of the art and the place and my personal connection to it could produce some really interesting poems that would be cohesive enough to eventually become a chapbook.
7.  Would it be better for your poems to go off for a week by yourself? Because other people’s voices could confuse yours…
I don’t think I would be able to go off on my own and write for a week without some kind of interaction. I’ve learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project and my critique/workshopping group that it is incredibly helpful to have other voices to point out parts of the poem that are not concise enough or redundant or confusing. I’m still developing judgement on taking advice and on revision – and learning that what one editor likes, another won’t. I have a feeling that, even over years of writing, the balance between my voice and the critical voice of others will be difficult to achieve. At the moment, I feel that the other voices are helping to make my work stronger so that a bit of it can get out to the public in some way.  I do consider myself a general audience sort of poet, rather than a more erudite “poet’s poet.” That being said, there needs to be a certain level of craft to get work published and I need others’ help to achieve that.
8.  Think of the most ridiculous and long poetry project you can–say, a blank verse epic about some obscure historical event–and write the first page. (That’s not a question, is it? Well, do they make you do these kind of exercises in poetry workshops and why don’t they?)
Some workshops do give prompts or assignments, often around poem exemplars. Usually though, they give several prompts from which you can choose one to work on. I have some experience writing from prompts from Binghamton Poetry Project, which is how I actually attempted a slam poem – not my natural bent! I don’t think that this workshop will be set up like that, though, as it seems that the expectation is that some people may be generating new work while others may be revising individual poems or collections.
9.   Are you, a polite person, willing to write a rude poem? then do it or why not?
If I were writing from a prompt, I could write a rude poem, perhaps even a profane poem. I would probably than tear it up and throw it away. I write to express myself and would only share work that I felt conveyed what I wanted to say in the manner in which I wanted to say it.
10.  If you read all the literary journals published in 2014, would you ever be able to do anything else for the rest of your life?
There are a zillion literary journals – and they come and go all the time. I would not attempt to read a year’s worth of journals, because, yes, it would take a lifetime. I do read a variety of contemporary poetry, but snatched from here and there. And, yes, I do understand that my journal publications will reach relatively few and rarefied readers, but it seems to be part of the way things work. Enough journal publications – and some of the “right” ones, eventually – are needed to get a small press to consider a chapbook. Or people self-publish, but I don’t think I am cut out for that.
11.  Can you learn anything other than technique at a workshop? This applies to painting workshops, and my answer has been ‘no.’ Technique is essential but secondary.
I think that one can learn things other than technique at a workshop, but first I have to consider the subject of technique. Whereas you studied both English and art at the collegiate level, the last time I had formal instruction in poetry, I was an 8th grader in Monroe Bridge. One of the things I enjoy about Binghamton Poetry Project and Sappho’s Circle is the opportunity to learn more technical aspects and craft of poetry. Other things I can learn are some of the ins and outs of the editorial and publishing processes, at which I am a novice, at best. I also think that I could learn a lot about my by-then 55-year-old self, as I will be walking into an unknown territory, interacting with a group of new people which is daunting for someone who has become more and more of an introvert over time, facing the possibility that I could be totally out of my depth, and perhaps spectacularly failing in front of an award-winning poet and publisher. But, probably not. I hope.
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Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

13 thoughts on “Q & A on the poetry workshop”

  1. Thoughtful questions, thoughtful answers. Fear of failure…that’s the biggest problem I think. If we can get past that, and the realization that not everyone is going to like what we do no matter how good it is, we can do anything.

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    1. Thanks for your perspective. When I was younger, a major failure might have derailed me; now, I think that I can weather a bad experience with more resilience. I have also learned that rejection is not the same as failure. There is a lot of rejection by journals and editors, but, if the work still speaks to another person, it is not a failure.

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  2. You won’t be out of your depth. I’m certain of that. Even the best, most experienced poets have off days, so if you have one that you wish you could do over, shrug it off and move forward. It’ll be a wonderful experience. I almost signed up for it, but wanted to go to New Mexico instead. 🙂

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    1. That would have been wild if you had signed up! I haven’t managed to meet anyone I met on blogs or social media in person yet, although my daughter has had that experience. New Mexico is a much easier trek for you, though, as Massachusetts is much easier for me.

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