Sunday, July 02, 2006

Who Do You Share Your Poems With?

Recent conversations here and there about workshops made me realize that I've been writing in a vaccuum for the past year or so, basically not really sharing any of my new work with anyone aside from my husband, A.K.A. my John Q. Public, the guy who likes the poems he can understand. My writing group disintegrated very quickly, most likely because we talked about everything but writing when we got together. I had some bad experiences sharing work too, meaning I shared a poem only to have someone rewrite the poem in their own voice and thank me for the inspiration. This hurt me more than angered me, but I think it may be the reason I stopped sharing work. One exception is the goofing off I did with A.D. during NaPoWrimo, but there was no risk there, it was goofing off and meant to just get things started. Now, I feel, well, I feel lonely and isolated and I wonder what others do--do you have a handful of poets you send new work to? Do you workshop your poems? Or do you write your poems and send them to editors who either like them and publish them, or decide to pass on them? Is it even a poem without a reader? Talk to me.


michi said...

hi suzanne - all of what you said for me, although i don't do much workshopping anymore. i do post at ITWS but mainly at the poem-a-day forum where it's not about in-depth crits and comments, but encouraging one another to keep going. i do send poems to friends occasionally, alex, teresa, arlene, a couple of others. and i do send poems out to editors before i have shared them with others at all. lately i have posted a few poems on my blog, but i am not sure my blog-readers knew whether comments were welcome / appropriate. i need to encourage them to say whatever they like about my work in progress, i think.

i used to workshop a lot more, but after i left the blueline, i did not feel at home anywhere else, not until i found inside the writer's studio. when i write a poem per day for the 30/30 challenge, i simply do not have time for in-depth critique, and now that i am not doing the 30/30 thing, i don't happen to feel like posting for revision, but that might pass. i understand what you say about others re-writing your poems; it happens. it's hard to find a place where that delicate balance is kept, and no lines are overstepped. it may be easier to share work with people who are aware of your voice and can take that into account when commenting on your work.


Nick said...


I too share your sensation of “creative isolation” at the moment. Right now the only readers of my “new” poetry are the straggle of followers of my blog, many of whom have never posted a comment on it and thus are nameless. At least you have your husband to use a litmus test. My wife is by and large unmoved by my poetry. Lately, I’m starting to believe that she may be on to something.

As you know, I too have had some negative experiences as well in workshops (well at least online anyway). Seems to me that people ask you not to pull your critical punches but then make you pay for being “overly critical” of their work? I, for one, will not comment on someone’s poem, who I know will adversely react to my critiques.

Recently, I went back to critique a bit at one of our old stomping grounds and was criticized for not seeing the forest from the trees – as my critiques were deemed as being too specific and that I dissected poems ad infinitum. And I thought – “Gee, I’d kill for some in-line critiques of my work!”. But what do I know? Anyway, my poetry or critique for that matter - never was very popular in the workshop milieu.

I have toyed with the idea of setting up a Blog where poets could post their work for comment but judging from the experiments of other noted poets I’m sure that this effort would not meet with any success. Still, I am open to someone else’s initiative.

Pamela Johnson Parker said...

My husband is my JOHN Q PUBLIC, too. He has an excellent ear and can tell me when my rhythms are off.

I used to share my poems with an excellent poet who gave me great feedback. When the world lost him, I pretty much quit writing, too, because I was in a vacuum. The last of my college friends moved away, and since I was a mom and a non-teacher, we gradually lost contact past Christmas cards.

I signed up for a workshop last year but still didn't find a workshop help, except for the professor who was great. I'm in a low-residency MFA program, in which the other students (there are only 5 of us in poetry, with nearly 50 in fiction--go figure) are, quite frankly, jerks. And there are no other women...I feel like the token soccer mom sometimes.

The rewrite thing happened to me, too. The professor caught it, though. His mentorship has been fantastic, but he's gone this semester. I dread going back next week for residency if it's only going to be more of the same as last January...

I don't know what it is about this brand-new MFA program that is so doggone competitive.

A few people on-line have given me great critiques/help, but I hesitate to ask for more, not wanting to waste their time with my beginning-again work.

I'm studying fiction, too, and there is absolutely NO competition there that I have noticed. Maybe it's because I write flash fiction, and it's never going to be mistaken for the more traditional stories the other students are writing. They are almost all encouraging and supportive.

What do you think about all my whining? Is this someone else's experience, too?


PS It's a poem without a reader, I guess, but it's not a poetry that develops much. The same tics and lazy habits show up time and again in my work.

Thanks for asking.

Charles said...

I share very new, rough work in earnest with my friend Stephanie, and we meet every Saturday (or every other, right now). We also do the Legitimate Dangers Deathmatch discussions during this time as well.

Once poems are a little more cohesive, I sometimes send them out to three or four blog or poetry friends elsewhere in the world.

Radish King said...

I don't really share my poems with anybody these days. I am at the point where I want to write without other people's input. I post them on my blog sometimes but only so I can see how they look there. I don't want critique on them. I don't want to be gently prodded in any certain direction, I want to run around like a kid with too much sugar as long as I can and then crash and figure them out for myself. Maybe after a while this will change. Everything does.

C. Dale said...

I have 3 poet-friends who know my work really well. They understand what I am doing, for the most part. and they understand when I am trying to do something new, take a new direction, etc. They are the only ones who see any poem of mine before it is published in a magazine. sometimes, I don't show any of them a new poem. Other times, I show all three of them. But I NEVER show poems to a single soul outside of this core of three. Why? Because I just am not interested in the kind of critique that tries to make your poem into one of their poems. I don't want a critique that doesn't understand my diction, my syntax, my style. I don't want a workshop. But different strokes for different folks.

Anne Haines said...

Suzanne, this is a really good question. For me, I want different things at different times, and a big part of my process has been learning to recognize what sort of feedback I need -- and learning to trust my own judgement sometimes & send poems out into the world without having workshopped them -- I used to never trust my poems unless someone else had told me they were okay.

I belong to a poetry group that meets monthly; they are very good at line-editing, at telling you when your image is muddled or the narrative flow of your poem is confused. They're not very good at seeing past the poem as it exists on the page and making suggestions about how I could truly revise, re-see the poem, start over on a blank page and rewrite the whole thing from scratch -- which often is what my rough drafts need. A big part of the reason I went back for a second workshop with D.A. Powell is that he is very good at that kind of thing, and after a week of listening to him zero in on what's going on with my poems and others', I understand a little better how to step back from my own work and re-see it.

That said, the last time I truly felt isolated and alone in my work, I started a writers' group -- and partly because I was very clear about what I needed from the group, and partly because I was very lucky, that group was a really great sounding board for my work for about ten years.

It's very different getting feedback from someone who knows my work intimately & has known it for a number of years, and from someone who just has three or four poems & is coming to them without any preconceived notions of what I'm trying to do. I value both. Right now what I'm wanting from a reader/readers is to be pushed a little harder than I'm willing to push myself, which is why I'm feeling fairly definite about applying to low-res mfa programs in the near future. (eek!)

Anyhow, long answer, sorry! For me, right now, I seem to get the most good from the summer workshops -- that intensity, that immersion, and the feeling of sharing work with a room full of people who are also serious enough to crave that intense immersion. At the same time I'm more willing to "go it alone" the rest of the year than I ever have been before. And in a few weeks or months or years, I may need something totally different. Weird, eh?

gina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

It's very tough to find other poets who can really see beyond their own poetry-

I asked Billy Collins that question two years ago when he was in Williamsburg- he said he has a couple of people but sometimes he simply has to trust his own ear.

I have mostly given up or boards because I don't have the time and energy to devote to'new' poets, only to receive lousy feedback in return (occasional insights but your odds are better for the lottery)

There is a small roundtable group here at a bookstore, it's my only real outlet right now.

mareymercy said...

I really would like a new group to critique my work as my old one fell apart as people moved, got married, etc. But I've had a hard time making it work in the virtual world - there's something missing when I can't speak face-to-face to people. I've noticed a real tendency for people to just paste someone's poem into a new message and re-write the damn thing to their liking, which, in my opinion, is not a valid method of critiquing someone's work. I'm still looking for a new venue to get my poetry workshopped, as I do think it's valuable to get the input, but I haven't come up with one yet.

Billy Jones said...

I share my poetry with the world but not because I'm looking for help from other poets. I've tried online and offline workshops always with the same results-- all the poems in the group end up sounding like the members with the strongest grip on the group wrote the poem.

Maybe that's okay with some but I have my own voice good or bad, and I don't need my poems sounding like others wrote them.

For me the key has been to try anything and see what others enjoy the most. Often it's not the poem I would have picked that others seem to like best, but that can teach you more than any workshop. My sitemeter gives better advice than any workshop I've tried and with a million pageviews in the last 12 months I think the sitemeter to be the best judge of poetry ever.

As for advice to other poets I can only pass along what Billy Collins once told me: I'm paraphrasing, Take your reader somewhere other than where he or she thinks you're going.

Alison Pelegrin said...


I go it alone with my poems, and have for several years. I used to have one friend to share work with, but that sort of fell apart. I feel unhinged a lot of the time, but I have more than once been burned to the extreme in a workshop setting.

I guess this is ok with me for the most part, though I often feel clueless about where I am going with poems. On occasion I will receive really useful feedback from an editor, which I appreciate.

Good Discussion,


Simmons B. Buntin said...

I don't share my poems, but that's more because I don't really have a trusted group of folks to show them to than not wanting to. I'm with C. Dale---it has to be someone who knows your work, not to mention understands and appreciates poetry. Teachers were great in that context.

I've posted a couple drafts of poems on my blog, but never really felt comfortably doing that so don't anymore. And I admit I just glaze over, now, at seeing drafts of poems on other poet blogger sites. I read the ones that aren't draft, though: those by lesser-known or well-known poets that the blogger has picked because s/he really likes the poem.

Unknown said...

I only show my poems to a few people whom I trust. By trust, I meant people who are smart about poetry and know what I'm doing. These kinds of people are hard to find and a treasure to work with.

That said, I did feel creatively isolated for a long time until I started a group.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

I write to release myself, release my creativity, to empty myself, so that all things following my emptiness can flow through me like the wind blows through a window. I am the window opening. And the acummulated dust and grime at the window seal are my poems I'm washing off.

People are welcome to my dust and grime if they want, they can say what they want. "Good and Bad" are relative. I am still just the window opening.

Suzanne said...

Thanks, Everyone. I appreciate the responses and admit I'm fascinated by the variety of responses as well. You've given me much to ponder.

Radish King said...

p.s. I forgot to answer the last question.

It's a poem if I say it is.

colleenR said...

We do have a working writer's workshop here. I understand your comment about members rewriting in their voice. Sometimes that happens but for the most part we help each other. Poetry is much harder to workshop than prose.

I share my poetry with my community through a small publication volunteers put together and at our monthly spoken word open mic. (I'm not on blogger)

Suzanne said...

Hi Colleen,
When I wrote that I shared a poem with a friend only to have that person rewrite it in their own voice and thank me for the inspiration---I was not referring to a workshop situation.

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