I sometimes run little, informal writers’ workshops at Senior Centers and every now and then I drop into the community college where I taught for two thousand years and talk to the Poetry Writing class.
The seniors (of which I am officially one) are usually fun to work with. They’re often just getting out of the house, anyway, and they’re amazed that the things they write can be manhandled so readily. “I never thought of starting somewhere besides the beginning,” someone said recently. “But I see what you mean.”
In the last poetry class I visited, however, I got nothing but flack. We had the “But-that’s-how-it-really-happened” discussion: Me: “I’d make this about 1/4 shorter.” Him: “But that’s how it really happened.” Me: “I know, but you can still edit it.” “Him: How can I? That’s how it really happened.” I talked a little about rhyme and the usual rules that come with rhyme, so a guy in the back asked me when God had died and put me in charge. When I suggested to somebody that she cut the second stanza because it was pretty much like the first she said, “If I’m that bad a writer, I might as well give up!” And she rushed from the room in tears. It was just one of those nights.
In the recent “Water~Stone Review (Fall 2011) there’s an interview with Richard Bausch. Toward the end he uses a golf analogy to talk about learning to write better. I’ll just paraphrase, okay?
You go to a golf pro to improve your swing. He watches you and says, “Your feet are all wrong, your left arm is too stiff, and you’re not keeping your head down. Try again.” Do you say, “Oh, man. I give up. I’m hopeless. I’ll never play better.” No. You adjust your stance, pay attention to your left arm and keep your head down. You do it again. And again.
That’s revision. Someone makes sensible suggestions, and you try them out. Take a look at the whole interview. RB is a smart guy.
Now to lighter fare — the January poem is up on my website (or it will be by tomorrow). If you’re interested go to http://ronkoertg.com/rons-books/