So with what does one fill those 10,000 hours or ten years or twenty years or the instant karma of genius?
I like, I mean I really like, to read short takes on what poets think about writing poems. A book like the recent Poets on Teaching, then, is pretty much tailor made for me. It’s the perfect bedside book. Something to dip in and out of. I’ve read through it, and now I’m making a second pass, taking notes. I thought I might as well start putting some of them up on the blog.
It seems that’s one thing that links nearly every conception of a creative writing class or education: reading. And usually reading a lot (hence all these 10,000 hours and ten-year admonitions). It gets me to wondering how much and what sort of outside poetry people bring into creative writing classes. I, like Sikelianos, have a fondness for anthologies more like the Norton Anthology of Post-Modern Poets over more “canonical” anthologies such as the Norton anthology Modern Poems, for instance. I just find that students usually have a rough grasp of Stevens, Eliot, WCW, Frost, up through Plath, Lowell, Sexton and more recent poets such as Olds, Dove, Strand, and etcetera when they arrive. I feel I can do the most help be bringing in an alternate tradition. But, again like Sikelianos, I’m concerned mainly with the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. Starting roughly with 1911, for me. Even narrowing it down to that, I find that there’s not a whole lot of depth I can approach, as I want to spend most of our time talking about their writing processes and what other poets are doing right now. The call of the right now is loud, and for good reason, as the right now is where we are, what we’re joining. But the right now is transitory and is comes out of and is tied to a just then that is also very important. Such things bother me, and why I’m sympathetic to conceptions of art production that are heavy on reading what came before, even as my classes do little of it.
Given that, how far back should or could a creative writing class reach for examples? It’s important, in the abstract, for poets to read as much as is possible, from all eras and locations, but any real attempt at completeness fails in the face of time. Silliman, in a rather antic move, writes that “you need to be able to trace the history of this landscape backward at least two hundred years . . . . I’d argue that you need to know enough Middle English to reach Chaucer in the original . . . . If you can’t, you haven’t read enough, written enough, thought hard enough.”
I will therefore admit that I haven’t read enough, written enough, or thought hard enough. I, like most of us, have a long way to go.
I like Bin Ramke’s take on the issue:
“The process of teaching writing is a process of introducing the student to him or herself, to her own concerns and intentions, and then of challenging the student to confront what these concerns and intentions might mean in a larger (social, cultural, aesthetic) context, and how those concerns and intentions fit into some sort of artistic continuum—a tradition, if you wish.”
I like the “introduction” quality of it, and the generality of “artistic continuum,” where genre (among other things) is downplayed.
Now I’ve got to go. As they say: “In hel ne purgatoré non other plase!”