Day two: having a hard time in Jim Longenbach's workshop. We just don't teach the same way. This wouldn't normally be a problem - I'm open to new ideas and new ways of looking at poetry and the workshop process - but his method runs so contrary to mine that it just feels viscerally wrong. Stifling. Inhibiting.
First off, though, let me say that I like Jim's poetry, and he has a brilliant vocabulary when it comes to describing what's going on in a poem. He really gets the poem in all its current and possible incarnations, and makes wonderful and insightful suggestions. It's just this thing about not discussing meaning that I completely disagree with!
Here's how he works:
We are to describe the poem meticulously in terms of craft. From the very simple: it has 18 lines and 4 stanzas, to the interplay of literal and figurative language. That is all. The details. And while this is a very useful way to examine a poem - it really gets you inside of it by peeling back the layers - but we don't then make what I think of as a natural progression to a discussion of meaning. There's no discussion of how the details of craft do or don't support or challenge the subject matter. No discussion of context. He says a poem is the disposition of language on the page, not the subject matter. It's the marks on the page, the look/shape of it, the sound. I would agree that subject matter doesn't make a poem, it's what you do with the subject matter that does - the two must marry (technique/craft and subject matter) into meaning. Jim says meaning isn't important in a poem. He doesn't wish to make any value judgments, nothing about whether a poem is working or not.
This is holding me back. A poem has meaning. Not at first, not as you write it, but the finished product does. And you must examine what you've written to determine what you are saying and if you are expressing it in the best way possible. Meaning is there, whether you like it or not, and it creates layered depths in a poem. It's simply irresponsible not to pay attention to it.
This is what is wrong with poetry today. If a poem looks good and sounds good, then it must be good. I am completely bemused by this kind of thinking. This kind of philosophy presupposes that all the poems are good and worthy. Not true. Some poems don't work. Some poems just don't have 'it.' Some are poems you write on the way to the better poem - they are learning experiences, practices, drafts.
I don't know about anyone else in the group because we haven't discussed this outside the workshop, but I don't need a laundry list of the elements I used in my poem. I know what I used. I want to know what you thought and felt and experienced when you read it. I want to know if it rose up, like a figure, or a movie, in your mind and inhabited you or you it. I want to know how deep was the dose of reality I gave you? Was it inside or outside of you? What other technical elements would work better, in your opinion?
It's good to hear different approaches, but the sessions are a struggle for me because of this clash in our thinking.
The agents are here and giving talks this afternoon. After that are fellows' readings. Agent meetings are tomorrow and next Saturday. Am meeting with Julie Barer (has her own agency) tomorrow to pitch.
We're all exhausted, but in a good way. It's somewhat like the start of a new romance. You just don't sleep and somehow you make it through!