Whew! Poetry workshop with Vievee is OVER! The whole experience was amazing, transformative, surreal — as in . . . it’s like your sitting in your body without sitting in your body –
meanwhile cortisol pumps through your veins reminding you that yes, you are in your body and your body needs a goddamn drink.
I have more to write about the experience of taking a serious workshop. For now, I console myself by telling myself that yes, it will get easier and no, it never gets easy.
Here are some nuggets I saved from our last workshop. They are valuable from an editorial standpoint — simple craft things that can take a poem to the next level:
1. Addressing a 1-beat poem: Of course you can add lines, but often changing the line order is enough to add levels and confound expectations.
2. Keep the word “play” alive in your imagination: revision is play.
3. Where is the strongest line in the poem — you should be able to locate it. Have it at the end or near the end. It’s good to end with the power line. If you can’t find it, there’s a problem right there. Some poems have both first and last lines as power lines – this is good, too.
4. Reading contemporary poetry is the single most important thing you can do to improve your writing. How can you enter a conversation that you are not conversant in? Read as much or more than you write.
5.With each poem that you plan to take to the next level, write the following things down at the top or on another sheet of paper: What tone do you intend? What is this poem trying to say? Often, the conversation in your head about the poem and what’s on the paper itself is where the poem actually is. Fall into the gap. To do that, be very aware of what your internal conversation is around it. Also, write 3 adjectives that describe the voice of the poem. Is it oracular? Witty? Ironic? How do these voices sit with you?
6. Don’t move from mythology to mythology without carefully guiding the reader.
7.It’s often better and more powerful to plainly state things.
8.Inspect the words that bear a lot of weight and layers. Do you need to unpack it more so that the reader picks it up? You can have codes but make sure they’re detectable.
9. What question does your poem pose?
10. How does the poem locate itself? Does it locate itself enough?
11. If you write a lot of mystery and ambiguity, give your readers a way to find the answer.
12. (this is my personal favorite; context intentionally left out): If you write poetry, you risk the burning.
13.If you write a poem that is modeled on another poem, write “After Ode to a Grecian Urn” in Italics after your title.
14. Lots of beautiful language often diffuses resonance and power. If you privilege resonance and power in your poems, use beautiful language carefully.
15. Know when to stop: interrogate all endings for that beat too far – end on a strong image but resist the romance of the image.