Map of the Folded World reviewed at The Rumpus
If you scroll to the bottom, there’s a link to a new poem. And by new poem, I mean NEW poem. I wrote it last week. That’s one of the truly fun (and potentially terrifying) things about Internet-based publications. Things can really move fast.
Reading this review, while still thinking about the MFA consulting thing from the other day, got me to thinking about the value of feedback, of being part of a conversation. It’s the great reason for wanting to participate in an MFA or PHD program. It’s why people go to residencies and conferences. It’s the great value of community. OK, sure. That’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to participate in at times.
Feedback is such an odd thing. In any circumstance. I remember being in my first creative writing workshop back in the 80s. I was a journalism major surrounded by English majors. Some of the things I heard and said I still remember (others, thankfully, not). Unless one is very strong (and maybe even not then), the things people say affect you (effect you, even). A poet friend of mine, Rebecca Aronson has a writing group that meets for a week every spring. I’ve been envious of that for years.
When someone says you are X, what do you do in response? Can you really ignore the pull of description? Do you look at yourself more closely to see if you are, indeed, X? Do you run from X like from a burning building? Do you embrace it as inevitable? Do you do all these things by turns? Are they good things or bad things?
Well, both, certainly. It can be wonderful or devastating. Praise can give one confidence to continue or it can give one a self-obsession that leads to the failure of the work. Same with negative criticism.
When I’m talking with people about their work (or reviewing [which I don’t do much of], but that’s a little different), I find it important to talk to them about what I see them doing. It’s like watching a film of oneself doing a sport. But not just to make one’s form better or more fluid. It’s also to help someone decide, and then to assist them in investigating, who their family is. By that, I mean the constellation of poets with whom they share some affinity. But there’s a drawback to that, isn’t there? The feeling that you just sit there in the shadow of previous, stronger poets . . .
Well, it’s necessary to describe what artists are doing. At least I think so. It helps them. It gives them something to chew on. And it helps us contextualize what they're doing. It assists reception. It’s a carnival mirror at times, yes, but often it will say something that gives us a new angle on something we thought was finished. I often wish I could be in a writing group again. Are there many people who are in writing groups not affiliated with a school?
Or people who hate writing groups? People who never read reviews of their work?
And then, as an addendum, as I was writing this an email came in asking if I’d be interested in leading a one-day public workshop in St. Louis this October. Now THAT sounds like fun! Anyone in St. Louis want to meet for pizza?