Thursday, February 2, 2012

The At-Home Poet's Workshop

     I was just asked by a friend who read a previous post to explain some of the things I do to create a writer workshop environment seeing that I am all alone.  He wanted me to say more than, "I just write."  He wanted to know what things I do to give myself a construct for writing without the benefit of other writers to urge me on.  Here are five things I suggest writers, specifically poets should try to do if they are on their own.  Of course, most poets know these things already.  As creatures of solitude and habit, we are prone to learning different ways to generate ideas and poems.

      Feel free to share your ideas in the comments or on your own blog.

           1.  Read.  I mean it.  Too many poets say they read for pleasure, and because they love this or that particular genre, but not enough pick up a book determined to actually learn something new from it.  There is a sort of osmosis with reading, but why settle for that?  Read not just for pleasure, but to consciously learn how the masters craft sentences and thoughts.  As poets, no genre or type of reading is benign.  We poets have a responsibility to absorb everything.  So get to it and don’t be a passive reader.
      2.  Copy.  I have talked about this before, but copy out a few poems.  Whether you write them out by hand or type them, it makes little difference.  The very act of copying out really great poems will teach you a lot about how they were written and what specific choices the poet made.  Copying out poems is what taught me the most about line breaks at a time when I was really terrible at it.  I still struggle with breaks, but I am a whole lot better than I used to be.  Learn from the best.  See the world as they see it, if only for a moment or two.

      3.  Imitate.  Write your own version of the poems you admire.  Write your own version and put them into the context of your own life.  This is more than a fun workshop I teach on a regular basis, it is how I learn about strophe and conceit.  By imitating a poem you can see the obstacles the poet faced, you start to see solutions, too.  I also use this activity when I am blocked.  Do I ever count these poems as mine?  Not until I have revised them to the point they no longer resemble the original, but the revision of these imitation poems can be quite entertaining and instructive.  Imagine learning why one poem works in one form, but maybe not another poem in that same form.   

      4.    Steal.  Go on-line and simply steal quotes and phrases.  Record these thefts into a notebook to be saved for later.  I am a compulsive thief when it comes to quotes I can later use for epigraphs.  I use them for old poems and for new poems.  I will even use them to start a poem from scratch, meaning I answer the question the quote begs, and move on from there.

      5.  Deconstruct.  Take one of your of poems and turn it into a prose poem.  Take one of your old poems and turn it into a sonnet.  Make certain it is a poem you hold near and dear to your heart because you need to ensure you are taking the exercise seriously.  Note what you are forced to change, what is made impossible, and that which becomes easier.  As you watch one of your own poems become something else, you are exposed to ideas of transformation you normally would not see. New expressions become possible, and new is always good when it comes to your writing, even if it reaffirms your decision to stay with older, more familiar forms.