Waiting for Necessity to Speak III

by Michael Simms

     Nowadays, many poets learn their craft in creative writing classes. We call them workshops in order, I suppose, to suggest a correlation with wood-carving or perhaps clock- making. And the best teachers do a great service to the students by emphasizing how a poem works, as well as how it could work better. As valuable as workshops are in passing on the craft to the next generation and providing employment for established poets, what is missing in creative writing classes is a way to talk about the real guts of the writing process. There seems to be a fearful cynicism in these classes that prevents people from discussing the way poems are actually made. For example, the word imagination is rarely mentioned. And the traditional language for describing the moment of receiving the poem seems antiquated and even a bit silly in a classroom where down the hall people are looking through microscopes at human cells or listening to a lecture about the statistical analysis of the behavior of white rats. A student who dared to name his or her muse would be summarily dismissed as a flake. It is ironic that almost any other idea, no matter how neurotic or far-fetched its origins, will be treated seriously in a writing class, but if a student dares to talk about the act of inspiration (literally, a breathing in), his classmates will roll their eyes and change the subject. I have heard the most paranoid paradigms of human relations — the idea that all heterosexual union is a form of rape, for example — put forward as critical interpretations of poems in graduate workshops, and yet a discussion of love — which seems to me the source of all great poetry — is met with yawns and snickers. What have we come to?


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