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August 27, 2009


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Interesting. Not an experience I can say I've shared, but it's good to hear various approaches.

Thanks for the excellent post. So much to think about and respond to, beginning with the question you and David Baker ask. Conventional wisdom has is that you can teach craft but not inspiration. I think I disagree (I can explain) and wonder what you think (and you, too, Jim).
You're right about the bullies in the business, never in short supply. The weird or perfectly logical thing is that some of the offenders, who practice insult criticism as if it proved their virtue, have themselves the thinnest skins and go to pieces if you call their bluff.
Extraordinary that creative writing as a field, and the workshop as a structure, both so reviled in print as you say, Terry, are now being hailed as possibly the most important positive development in higher education in the past fifty years.

This is a terrific and provocative post. I love a good lecture, by a knowledgeable and generous professor who has taken the time to learn how to teach in that setting. Someone with years of experience reading and thinking and writing about literature has a lot to offer and I have been in seminar situations where the teacher is sitting on so much information but the group dynamic dictates that it not be shared. As for the workshop, I always thought it would be more valuable for students to take a classic piece of literature and get into the nitty-gritty of why it succeeds and to leave the unformed student work for individual discussion with one or two mentors. Maybe this approach would make unreasonable demands on a professor's time. I've seen the workshop unravel. Everyone starts out positive and then one person -- maybe even a kind person -- says, "well, I have difficulty with . . ." and before you know it the class is like a flock of crows pecking at a corpse. As for creative writing programs, while they may not make poets or fiction writers of those who pass through them, they will them make better readers and keep a love of literature alive. Thanks, Terry.

Great post - lots to think about. I agree with Stacey's assessment of the value of creative writing programs - and not just because we attended the same one!

All of us have stories of bullies in writing classes, too, which is sad. Although they make for great conversation when accompanied by a pitcher of beer, I don't think anyone has learned anything writing-wise from people like that. I have, however, learned how NOT to teach.

I think it was a marvelous post and I especially agreed with the part about the differences in class sizes, the joy of "unconcealment", and in not letting our ego push "the poem out, then the moment fails" -- which reminds me of some book reviewers who take a particularly aggressive, negative hand to the review---for what purpose?--so that it is more about that reviewer's self-perpetuating mental exercise of ego...
Teaching and writing are not static, both perpetually in motion toward discovery. "Hungry for sustenance," a writer's process, in and out of classrooms, it seems to me, is about seeing and seeing again, and then finding new ways to see and therefore, to say.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
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"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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