Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Assessment and poetry don't mix

A little while ago I paid for a poetry assessment through my local writer's centre.  $75 got me half an hour with a renowned poet who is also an editor and well involved with the 'academic' poetry world.  I had been to a poetry reading by this particular person before, and loved her work.  I thought of all the professional wordsmiths to show my work to, she would be a good fit.

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I stepped in the door.  The person I was getting was not the sensitive soul with a skillful pen I had observed elsewhere.  The person I was getting was friendly but business-like.  I was getting the poetry critic, the professional, the lecturer.  In short, I was getting what I had paid for.

I was prepared for my poems to be critiqued.  I anticipated constructive criticism.  She told me that my line endings were predictable, that I should use more metaphor and simile, less abstraction.  Essentially that the little collection of poems I had presented were not bad, but could be better. It made sense, I could see her points.

What I forgot to allow for were my feelings.  I've always been emotionally attached to many of my poems.  They are my life story, in snippets. They are my impressions, my thoughts, my experiences distilled into brief lines. So, logic aside, criticism of my poetry has always felt like criticism of me, in some way.  Though I tell myself it is not, it is.

Critiquing poetry has always seemed sacrilegious to me, from an early age.  I remember stuffy high school classrooms; being hunched over my desk trying to analyse and pick apart famous poetry.  Trying to guess the poet's intention and meaning, talking about their use of language, rhyme, pace, alliteration.  I've always hated it.

Now I find that I haven't written a single poem since that fateful half-hour in an upstairs room with yellow walls and a sloping ceiling.  In and of itself, this is not an extraordinary thing.  I often have long dry spells, usually accompanied by an overindulgence in working too hard, doing the things I like least.

But the difference is that I am shying away from it now.  I don't want to try, don't want to write more "not bad" poetry.  I don't remember feeling this way before, not this particular strain of wordless-ness.  Perhaps it's fear.  Perhaps it's a bruised ego.  I'm not sure.

The one thing most likely to pull me out of a slump is to spend time in the presence of poetry, and poets, those who see the world in a similar way.  So for now I am reading, soaking up what I can.  Hoping that I can fill myself up with enough lovely, piercing, elegant words that some of them will start to spill over again.

4 comments:

  1. The one thing most likely to pull me out of a slump is to spend time in the presence of poetry, and poets, those who see the world in a similar way. So for now I am reading, soaking up what I can. Hoping that I can fill myself up with enough lovely, piercing, elegant words that some of them will start to spill over again.

    this sounds like a good plan. whom do you choose for this?

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    1. Good question Holly. I have 2 books of poetry I got for a Christmas present that I still have yet to dive into fully (I am prone to gluttony, reading them all at once. So I am trying to pace myself, savour one at a time) One book is a Sylvia Plath collection and the other a Russian poet called Marina Tsvetaeva. I suspect her poetry loses some of its impact in translation from her original language, but I love it anyway. I first encountered her via just an extract of one poem in one of those poetry 'appreciation' sort of books, and she's been one of my favourites ever since.

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  2. Hi Nicole - loved this, and can relate wholeheartedly to your experience and to your reaction. OOPS! Was that statement too predictable? Should I have used more metaphor and simile? More (or was it less?) abstraction? Damn, now I think I feel completely insecure by default...

    Joking aside, your experience was certainly an example of how not to spend $75, wasn't it? I think you are a very good poet and I love reading your work. And I can be a harsh critic, especially of my own work. You KNOW you have produced some very good work indeed, and I know you will in the future.

    Thank you for the read. If ever I find myself with a spare $75 I'll keep it tucked firmly into my purse.

    Maureen (Solo's Mum)

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    1. Hi Maureen. Thank you, wholeheartedly!

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