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Creative Workshop: Positive Feedback and Suggestions for Improvement

Creative Workshop: Positive Feedback and Suggestions for Improvement

Ellen Bryant Voigt is perhaps the most gifted workshop leader I have encountered. In the winter of 1997, at one of my MFA residencies at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, I was in a workshop with her and Carl Philips as workshop leaders. While I was writing this book, I found among my papers the notes on a minor poem I had work shopped with them. The notes I took are illustrative of the sorts of comments one can get from a good workshop focusing only on craft elements and not on content. Later in the spring of 1997, I revised the poem based on these comments, with Thomas Lux as adviser. The final poem is still a minor poem, but it probably has become the best it could be.

The original was written during the semester that I wrote a long critical essay on James Wright; you can see the clear influence from his later work. The primary comments—from the whole workshop, really—had to do with the flatness of the language in key places, the use of didactic, or “preachy,” statements, the location of important information in syntactically unimportant places in the sentences (ignoring the lines), and whether the images could or should be made to do the heavy lifting.


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