A guest showed at our workshop last night, one who attended a reading I gave in October. I’d presented Mainline poems from 45 years ago along with Chalcedony Songs and talked about how the voice, in both, uses the world and emotion as reflections of a personal journey.
But I don’t know exactly what intrigued our guest. We do often invite people to see what the workshops are like, and the invitation goes out to whoever displays a spark.
This guest brought a poem with intense heartbreak in the first stanza, and the next three stanzas seemed to spin away from the trauma. Our guest used highly interesting language, but the feeling in the first stanza was not developed. We couldnâ€™t tell what the motivating impulse might be, whether to explore the heartbreak, to accept it fully, to complain about its injustice, or to expose its ironies. Or something else.
We gave feedback, reading to each other lines that we liked, pretending the author was not in the room. This protocol is designed to give our guest the sense of eavesdropping on an honest conversation. There were a number of lines that we liked quite a lot.
The questions was then asked, “What does the poem need?” The imbalance of emotion was noted, and we discussed two strategies. One, to develop the heartbreak, at the same depth it was presented, in the remaining stanzas. Two, to dilute the feeling and spread it, more or less evenly, throughout the poem.
Next we asked the author to join the conversation. We were thanked for our feedback, but our guest had nothing more to say. I couldn’t tell if our comments had struck a chord. And today I received an email thanking us for the invitation and declining to attend another session, on grounds that the workshop was not a fit.
A goal of mine currently is to be more honest, so my reply contained more than polite noises. I made a guess at the forces underlying the previous evening.
“I’m sure you gathered that our workshop believes writing that’s hinged to one’s personal journey is by far the most powerful. Your piece clearly started there. When you’re ready to develop that connection, please feel welcome to join us again.”