Once the initial shock of having over forty entries to read subsided, I began to wonder if the workshop challenge was too easy. Or perhaps the glut of entries was a result of #Writers-Workshop
’s growing popularity – which is its due – and congratulations to ^Beccalicious
and her team for the workshop’s new avatar.
Now for a few comments on the poems themselves –
Getting through these many entries was helped by the fact that there was such a variety of styles and forms. Several of you tried the instructional poem – it has an understandable lure – but many tried their own strategies. It was also refreshing to find a range of forms, from fixed structures to spoken word, song to prose poetry.
I will apologise for not commenting on each entry, and only leaving very short comments on some, but there were far too many of you. Instead here is some general critique that I hope will of use to everyone. I noticed that many poems were not quite poems, and that’s OK. We all start somewhere. When I started writing poems on dA, I found the following resources very useful, and I’m recommending them to those of you who feel you need reference material.'Tips For the Novice'
is the best starting point as it explains exactly what distinguishes poetry from other forms of writing; it will, at the very least, tell you what poetry isn’t, and that’s more than enough to go on. 'Tips For Editing Poetry'
combines an entire creative writing course’s worth of education into one essay. Pay special attention what ~suture
says about clichés and about modifiers – that’s where most people trip up.
Next: 'The Linebreak'
, 'Show and Tell'
. There is an excellent series of articles on imagery beginning with 'On Imagery 1 of 3'
, and you should read it once you are comfortable with the concepts explained in the other articles.
Finally, for those of who want to write in rhyme, please understand that you can’t do it well without a solid understanding of metre and scanning. If you’re thinking ‘Huh?’ please read this guide on metre
The reason I mention these basics is that I feel many of the newcomers to this workshop have missed out on the excellent training offered by past poetry workshop hosts. But you can make it up by throwing yourself into some self-study (it’s not as boring as it sounds) and lots of contemporary poetry.
I do like talking, so let me force myself to focus on matters that are specific to the workshop –
If there is one thing that I did not like about certain entries, it was that that these poems addressed the minimum criterion of writing in the second person, but showed no evidence of the author having done the two things I asked to be done: to read and learn from other second person poems, and to make conscious decisions about the approach. It is impossible for me to tell who did their homework and who didn’t; I can only judge by what translated or did not translate into the submissions.
A major problem is the lack of specificity, which stems, for the most part, from the uncontrolled pouring out of emotions. Wordsworth is far from my favourite poet, but his definition of poetry as ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility’ (Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
) offers an important lesson. When you bring a measure of distance to your writing, details previously obscured by an excess of feeling begin to surface. Putting those details down makes a clearer a picture for the reader; it becomes easier for him or her to respond to the work, instead of seeing it as just the mess of another person’s emotions.
Those are my complaints; now let me get to the fun part. These are my favourite poems from the workshop, in no particular order. 'Instructions to the First Maestro in Space'
is an incredible effort. ~Elmara
has taken inspiration from a number of places (see her author’s note) and has produced the most ambitious poem of the lot. The title indicates just how strange this poetic manual is, but she offers sharp advice, like don’t get distracted (‘do not/ look at these strange toys left scattered upon the floor of heaven’ ) and the surprising, go deaf (‘Turn a Beethoven ear’ ). I also enjoyed the sonics of this poem and the wordplay (‘This exercise to exorcise/ your inadequacies is futile.’ ) 'In Memoriam'
addresses itself to a dead or absent lover. This is an excellent and dramatic way of using the device of the second person because the identity of the dead person is forced on the reader, which is a cause for anxiety. I only wish the title were less obvious and the poem more detailed and personal. 'Wager of War'
uses the story of David and Goliath to contrast the warrior and the writer. This is a good example of how existing stories, fables, myths and parables can be used to enrich contemporary writing. 'How to Kill a Teddy Bear'
is a cruel little poem – and thank god for that. I like to think that the cathartic experience of killing a teddy bear parallels the release one experiences when one reads a good violent piece of work. The poem is a little rough around the edges, so I hope ~Airveia
takes the resources I mentioned to heart, because she’s got a great idea here.
Talking about violent poems reminds of something else I love in writing – humour. Humour, irony, sarcasm, good old parody, the lot. Poetry can be all of these things, so it surprised me that the majority of the poems were filled with hate and despair. All emotions and stances are valid in a form, so experiment away.
Many thanks to *reeeky2001
for writing 'How to Breathe'
-- what a delightful, delightful poem! I would cut lines 1, 2, 3 and 18, but the rest is perfect and light and has a nice little rhyme going. Reading ‘How to breathe’ was a breath (hah!) of fresh air for me. 'The Night is Deceptive'
is full of unusual, slightly surreal juxtapositions that work best in prose poetry. Imagine the night that is dark ‘like that summer day when you held me under the water too long.’ Comparisons like this play on what it means to be ‘dark’ and can slowly reverse the cliché quality such words. I also liked the contrariness of ‘My soft steps echo loudly’ and how the poet persona is haunted by ‘you.’
, the author of 'You're'
, has what seems to be a natural instinct for good sounds in poetry. She too has found herself a poem to be inspired by. This is a strong attempt, though I feel the images could be more tightly connected – perhaps using one image and extending it (like a metaphor) would be the right approach. 'Advocate'
is the most technically sound poem of all the workshop poems. You can tell the effort that has gone into the rhyme and metre, into the structure of the poem. The very first line – ‘You sold your sleep to stand knee deep’ – is an example of how the poet repeats sounds (sleep, knee, keep) to achieve a sense of unity in the poem, a sensual quality that keeps you reading. I do think the poem could do with a more visible narrative, but there are many things to admire in this poem (the pun on ‘unjustly married’ and the modern take on old-fashioned cursing in the final tercet, for example), and I hope you will take the time to read it, along with the others I’ve mentioned above.
Well, that’s the end of it then! I’m happy to have found so many poems to read and so many to enjoy (there were more than these eight). Of the eight poets I mentioned, only two were known to me previously, so I'm glad that I found new writers to admire. Thank you for having participated, and thank you to #Writers-Workshop
for the space and opportunity.
I wish you a new year filled with all the pleasures of reading and writing.