Part of the Antioch week involves an afternoon workshop group where participants either create work or critique existing work. In my workshop with Jim Daniels, a well known poet who also writes screenplays and fiction, we submitted ten poems a month ahead. These were posted on a private link to view and copy so we could be prepared to discuss one another’s poems.
On the first day Jim quotes a tweet from Megan Fox “we live in a world where losing your phone is more dramatic than losing your virginity.”
Jim discusses his expectations and goals for the week. “Your packets are works in progress. You all need some help with the poems.” His goal is to help improve poems. “A residual effect of commenting on other people’s writing is that transfers to your own work. We are trying to help one another find a voice and do it better, not to rewrite each other’s poems in our own aesthetic.”
Jim feels it’s important to have strangers look at your work. “People who know you know what the poem is about, but we leave out details others need.”
He believes “Good critique is constructive and beneficial, and is not meant to discourage writing.” . (I’ve been to workshops where either one or more participant or the instructor makes you want to burn everything you’ve written.)
“Try not to focus on technique, but focus on engaging discussion,” Hh says. “Participate, avoid passing judgment, and make specific suggestions for revision. It's not an in exact process. We all have biases.” Jim’s bias is toward clarity. He “wants to feel something below the neck” and have “an emotional payoff at the end.”
With ten participants, ten poems each and five days, we would not have time to discuss our complete packets. Jim had us pick two we felt needed the most work. In the end we had enough time to do here poems each.
While most of the week was spent work shopping poems, Jim provides some insights, such as” the title is the doorway to a poem.” It is a literal or tonal grounding, but not both. The poem “Autumn Comes to Martin’s Ferry, Ohio,” produces a physical grounding of time and place, whereas a poem entitled “Pity for Blondes” provides a tonal grounding.
“A good title cannot do both.”
In short poems there is more pressure on the title to provide grounding and contrast, which he terms the Zero Circle- where everything and nothingness compress together. He cites Robert Bly’s The Sea & The Honeycomb (a book of tiny poems) as an example for us to study.
Another interesting point I learned this week is the Sandwich Theory. Daniels claims in drafts we tend to begin and end with bread (My love of back-story!!!), burying the interesting stuff inside too much dry bread..
He recommends a book called Poetry is a Kind of Lying. This recommendation s made in context of a discussion around how “you can’t write about a subject in one poem. Get obsessed and stay obsessed. It may take many poems to express the idea.
While critiquing someone’s villanelle, I learned there is more pressure on the inside lines, non repeated lines. “They illuminate the tension against the repeated lines.”
If we're stuck sometimes point of view is the problem.”Second person can work by creating a kind of intimacy not found in third person, and is less self centered than first.
Daniel’s reinforced how “Discovery and surprise is important in the poem..”
He also points out how pop culture references like Coke, movie stars, etc. are becoming more common.,
He recommends reading journals before submitting work. Zoetrope.com helps one browse literary magazines to see one’s work fits.
While we didn’t do any exercises, Jim showed us some samples of a project he did with kids in Pittsburgh where they created Self portrait poems from objects in pockets.Happy Writing.