Confessions of a (former) workshop junkie

I love workshopping.

Since October 2011, I’ve been to 3 masterclasses and 7 workshops through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture (CCWOC), and the Mennonite Heritage Gallery. I’ve met with writers-in-residence at the Winnipeg Public Library, CCWOC, and University of Winnipeg. I’ve committed to a five-month mentorship and travelled to a two-week writing retreat. And I’ve met with one or two other poets for feedback every month for the past two years.

I love gathering ideas for new ways to enter a poem, the intentional practice of playing with form, the suggestions of alternate wordings and ways to tighten a piece from poets who see my tired grooves with fresh eyes.

Or, I should say, I loved workshops. Lately, when I’ve workshop my poems, it’s felt something like this:

Instructor: Angeline, I’m curious why you chose to write this as a prose poem.

Me: Don McKay (or other past workshop instructor or participant) suggested I play with that. I did and really liked it.

Instructor: What kind of poet are you? You obviously haven’t found your own voice yet!

Me: Aren’t we here to get ideas from each other?

Instructor: No, create from your heart and don’t listen to anyone else’s advice! Now go home and rewrite this poem in couplets!

Let me get this straight:

1. I’m a lousy poet for taking anyone’s advice.

2. My poems would be better if I took your advice.

3. Obviously, there is something wrong with this system.

So at the moment, I’m icked out on workshops.

I’m sure I’ll go back. Workshops give me a chance to block out a chunk of time for writing without distractions, and they set me in the path of other poets. That’s valuable in itself. But for now, I’m sticking to events that get me writing new work instead of asking stranger to critique my old stuff.

And if anyone does ask why I write the way I do, I’ll silently give credit for who I’ve become to Don, Méira, Sarah, Jennifer, Sally, et. al., in my head, and just say, Because this is my voice.

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