More on workshopping: why I do (sometimes)

Partly inspired by Rik’s comment on Julie’s blog, and cailleach’s response. Partly inspired by the latest poem on Rob’s blog — something called “Mute”. And partly inspired by what I noticed in my own writing last April (and this one) when stuff would come out of me that I never knew was there.

I doubt it would have come out without the workshopping. The thing is, workshopping is useful as far as it goes, because it provides a couple of things that working doesn’t. For me, the main thing that workshopping provides is the way people different from myself will read my work. That is important to me at this point in time, because I’m writing within a tradition that is for many people a little inaccessible; the West Indian tradition, having been more influenced in several ways by boundary-smashing Brathwaite and the dub poets than by Walcott, has a built-in set of expectations (sound, nationlanguage, rhythm, social comment) that are intimate and familiar to me but may not be to others. It’s interesting (not necessary) to recieve other feedback, especially with regard to Lily.

Workshopping introduced me to a number of things that may be elements of a specific poetry style emblematic of a particular place and time: the new formalism (about which I had no idea, not having studied English since the mid-1980s), the emphasis on concretism (which is generally damn good advice), the insistence on sense and craft over sound (a reaction, perhaps, to the Spoken Word movement, which tends to emphasize sound over sense). Writing within these confines, like writing poetry itself (which I took up to master my ability to write good prose, truth be told), has been an excellent exercise. And now workshopping helps with the crafting process, provides a testing ground for content, and provides a good proving ground for a draft.

But I no longer feel the need to revise and repost publicly. Not that revision isn’t happening — it’s ongoing, and poems need to be wrested from my hands in order for me to imagine them finished (doesn’t happen). But it doesn’t need to be shared anymore.


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