Dissertation Case Study #1: The Generative Poetry Workshop

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

For my dissertation research, I’m looking at issues of authorship in creative writing, namely how creative writing students view revision (some creative writers are notorious in choosing to not revise) and invention (where the heck does my creative work come from?). I started out thinking about voice in writing, but decided that was complicated and also figured that I couldn’t begin to talk about that unless I understood invention and revision adequately. And those two things have really become my focus in authorship theory and studies. With all this in mind, last night I attended the first class of the semester which was obviously a lot of introductory material for the course.

What I found most relevant from this first day was the views of invention we were given during class. The first video was from Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert who spoke about “the elusive creative genius”. During her talk, I kept thinking back to my undergraduate creative writing days and how inspired I would have felt after hearing her discussion about creativity and genius. I probably would have wanted to leave class immediately and start writing, which I recall feeling quite a bit during creative writing classes. And, of all the TED talks we viewed, I felt this was the most interesting in terms of her conceptions of invention and authorship.

The way the workshop will be run is also going to be extremely useful in what I am studying. If you know anything about the traditional writing workshop, which honestly has not changed dramatically since the late 19th century, the workshop is primarily peer review. It is critique. It is about teaching yourself how to correctly write a poem or any piece of creative writing. It is about fitting in, you could say. This workshop is different in a number of ways. This workshop is far more generative, for one, since it commits students to writing as much work as they can during a given semester. The workshop is also focused more on the writer. For instance, in a traditional workshop, the writer has to be quiet, not say anything, and listen to what each person has to say about his or her writing. When I was telling Dr. Strand about this process yesterday during our meeting about my research, he looked at me as if that was the worst possible and craziest idea for creativity he had ever heard, and I think he is probably correct in that assessment. But this workshop gets away from that. Instead, the writer has time to talk about what he or she wanted to do in the poem, about problems he or she is having in writing the poem, about how inspired the poem, and other questions regarding the writing process. Other students listen to this and instead giving a “cold reading” of the poem in class, they get five minutes to ask further questions of the writer, of which the writer can choose to answer or not answer. Then, within five days, the other writers respond to the work via a blog and let the writer know how they can further work on the poem.

Will this work, you might ask, especially if students are so used to and comfortable with the traditional workshop? I don’t know, but I don’t see anything wrong with making students uncomfortable since people tend to learn a lot when they become less comfortable in a situation. You learn a lot from doing old things in new ways. I think the time in class will definitely be useful where I, and other students, get to hear about the actual process of invention, revision, and creativity. That part is the most exciting element of this, at least for me as a creative writer and a researcher in this class. I confess that as a creative writing student I wanted nothing more than to explain what I wanted to do with my work, why I wanted to do that, and how it even got to this point. I wanted to say something during the workshop process. And with that in mind, I think this whole idea is liberating.

I also confess that it is liberating to sit in a class and be able to participate and not have to be evaluated on my participation. As a researcher, my participation will most likely be minimal, but I think this is an exciting idea, and so I do want to participate on some level. Plus, as the researcher, I think it will only benefit my work if I do take part in these activities. That way, I have a first hand experience with it and can better articulate how to better the process and/or discuss why it works or doesn’t.

Either way, I am excited for this opportunity and I am glad I took it, even though I am going to be busy and exhausted, but I am sure I will learn quite a lot through this process. And I hope to learn a number of things: 1. I’d like to learn how we can combine, or at least build a bridge, between CW and Composition pedagogies and 2. I’d like to learn how we can improve CW pedagogy through the workshop process. Really, I think this is a promising start.

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