Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Evil Conference

Here's a thing I wrote on Kasey's alterna conference blog on workshopping (in response to Jane's proposal):

I'm not skeptical. I'm genuinely interested in the matter of pedagogy and, as poetry is to such a high degree wedded to education, it's important to think about it. Perhaps it could even be a theme for the conference.

Too often discussions of pedagogy at AWP or MLA type of events fall back on "this worked for my class" or "this was useful for my students." Without any critical inquiry into what "works" means or for whom it works.

Often it means: I got them to repdroduce poetry I like - whether Lyn Hejinian or CD Wright). Often it means: I convinced students to buy into a contemporary idea of poetry - that poetry can be reduced to style (and that that style should show mastery etc - qualities inherent in the monoglossic workshop paradigm).

Also, most discussions of pedagogy tend to fall back on the metaphor of initiation - the point of teaching poetry is to bring people into the world of poetry, as if it was this separate little world (which it then becomes).

I think it's important to bring those critical considerations into the classroom. And also, not to think only of style, but also what art can do and how it can accomplish that - or other concerns that are not exclusively stylistic (and also how these things interact - how Kafka's penal colony can be abour aerial photographs of bombed-out cities).

(My friend Johan J├Ânsson always says: American poets are naive about the political power of poetry, Poetry is actually a form of cowardice.)

I also think it's important is to bring in literatures from other cultures and languages ("languages" in the wide sense of the word, including other media) - without erasing the translation process - to avoid a trap American poetry often seems to fall into - playing the illusion of a national canon, the national language.

Finally (for now), the infrastructure of the workshop - criticizing poems, perfecting poems - tends to reify the idea of the poem, and I think that makes me claustrophobic. Or the idea that the writer who's being "workshopped' can't be part of the discussion - she's "dead" so to speak. The context is supposedly neutral (the hygienic workshop space). I think it's important to undo those paradigms - let the writer discuss her work, have the students develop critical tools for thinking about poetry etc.

Those are just a few ideas.

Jane, I'm not saying your class would fall into any of these traps. I don't know anything about your classes. I'm just saying, it's be good to discuss the matter.

One last thought (which really was my first thought): who would this workshop be for?


Blogger Sandra Simonds said...

I told Donald that he needs to "get a divorce from god."

He took this comment swimmingly well---

7:53 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I agree with the urge to correct - that's part of a whole reification of the poem - the poem as a product that we produce. It's a problem in itself. Plus nobody really finds that discussion interesting or helpful (at least not at the graduate level). Most workshops I've been in it's been pulling teeth.

I absolutely disagree that one shouldn't read texts in workshops.

I think that's exactly the way to go, that's how you get away from the workshop production line. If there's one thing students need to do it is read more, and read more widely.

However, a lot of workshop students seem to not want reading in the workshop. Absolutely perplexing.

I had a class with Lyn Hejinian in which she had us read really fascinating theoretical articles as a way to develop some critical terms for thinking about the poems, but very few of the people in the class seem to even have bothered to read them, and even fewer wanted to participate in the discussion. Very strange.

I guess you'll have to explain why you don't want to read in class.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Have you ever read anything I've written about education on this blog? About poetry? Have you read anything I've edited (such as Action,Yes)? Certainly seems like you haven't.

I think it's healthy to realize that "Poetry" is a historical construct and clearly I'm not advocating a North Anthology approach to poetry.

Having said that, I think it's essential to read a lot of varied texts. You always have "boxes". Reading more texts, watching more films etc just give you more boxes to work with.

A lot of people show up at grad school having been taught certain things about poetry etc. I think it's the job of the teacher not to "satisfy" the consumers (uh, students) by reinforcing all their beliefs but to challenge them. Ask them to consider other boxes.

Choices are made. I chose to go to school. I was chosen to get into Lyn's class. I chose to take Lyn's class because she's an interesting poet. She chose some essays to read.

Somebody chose what videogames would be available to you.

You have a weird concept of "theory." Whatever theory class you took was poorly taught if it was just a matter of applying theories to poems. This was stuff like Umberto Eco writing about language.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


When I said have you never read anything I've written I mean on this damned blog, which I know you've read because you've responded to it! That is to say, I've always questioned the idea of a pristine separate Poetry.

12:31 PM  

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