Aug 21, 2015

Guidelines for workshopping a poem

The following outline is something that I shaped over the years of attending many poetry workshops. Some of these workshops have been free-for-alls: others have been monologues from the moderator. I found the following advice to work.

First, the benefits of workshopping a poem:       Typically, rookie workshoppers offer their poem with hopes that it will receive high praise. They crave positive feedback.
      But that is NOT the goal of workshops. What I am about to say is difficult even for experienced workshoppers to believe: The discussion is not all about you. Yes, you can learn a lot about technique or craft or be forced to consider other ways to approach your topic, but other participants will learn by listening to a passionate discussion of poetry—yours and theirs. Listening and participating will hone your own appreciation of poetry and the ways to critique it.
       Don't bring what you consider a finished work. Bring that first or second draft. Being a poem that you think has a specific problem and ask for advice (example: "That closing stanza doesn;t quite work. What canI do?")

To instill order and focus to our group discussions, and to ensure that everyone is heard by all, let’s implement the following guidelines:
  • One person will have an opportunity to present a poem or a conversation topic.
  • Then everyone else in turn will have an opportunity to comment. The original presenter will remain silent.
  • The original presenter will have the opportunity to respond to the comments or add to his presentation.
  • Repeat until everyone has had a chance to present a poem or topic.
  • This format is a time-honored process for successful workshops. I’ve adapted it to allow presenters with no poems to bring up non-workshop topics, such as commentary on social issues or personal announcements. Please limit yourself to no more than five minutes at a time.

If you present a poem or offer a critique, please follow these guidelines.
  • If you don’t seek critique, then state so before you distribute your poem.
  • Present only one poem at a time.
  • Please, no personal attacks. Address the poem. If you disagree with something that is said, acknowledge it, civilly ask to discuss it (or not), then move on.
  • Do not automatically assume the narrator of the poem is the poet.
  • Please share your critiques and comments with the group. The group might benefit from your thoughts. And, if other members dissent with your critiques, their comments could benefit you.
  • Do not extensively rewrite the poem to fit your concept of what it should say or how it should be expressed. Offer examples, but do not make it your own poem. Because it is not.
  • Remember, respect the work. Keep an open mind.
  • If you believe the criticism is unfair, remember the public at large is even tougher. It’s best to hear it now before you present it for publication or open mic.
  • Through it all, remember that your poem is yours alone. You alone decide on the value of the critiques.

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