Sunday, July 03, 2005

Feeling Animalistic

Saturday was the first of six sessions of the UA Poetry Center's Natural Selection: Poetic Ancestry as Traced Through the Animal Poem workshop, taught by recent UA MFA grads Dawn Pendergast and Paul Klinger, who make a good tag-team if for no other reason than it's kind of fun to sit back and watch them debate the meanings of poems, or at least the Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore poems we discussed---"Invective Against Swans" and "Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" by Stevens and "The Pangolin" by Moore.

(On Moore, her poetry is a real chore to me to read, at least this go-around, but a pleasant delight to more deeply read and thoroughly explore, if that makes sense. Her poetry seems to me pieced together like a tile mosaic; and I can see her influence on Mary Oliver, whom I much prefer to read. And all those adjectives and unadjectives!)

The premise of the workshop is a bit different than I expected (or at least hoped): First, to study various "animal" poems and to write imitations (loosely defined) of those poems/poet, with the goal of understanding the animalistic nature, if you will, of the poet. So the workshopping component, as at least it has been initially defined, is to review quick starts on imitation poems from the group. Second, to compile a catalog of non-English animal poems (though for most of us non bilingual types that's translated poems).

Despite my disappointment that the purpose of this class isn't to study and then consequently write and "workshop" animal poems (not imitation initiates), there are many things to be excited about: a good, dirverse group of participants; an energetic pair of workshop leaders; reading poets and poems I've not read before; and being a part of a larger compendium of animal poem cataloging.

It's been many years since I've taken a workshop or class. Probably 12 years. So to spend that much time analyzing a poem is something I have to get used to again, as I admit I've gotten into this Billy Collins mode of "it's a good poem, I like it, let's move on." It's a mode I very much enjoy---where I've been consuming lots of poetry, but moving through it pretty quickly. I revisit poems and poets I like while moving through those I don't. That's not unlike how I edit (and choose) the poetry appearing in A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. Perhaps that's how every editor works; I don't know.

The challenge for me for this class is with writing the imitation poems, both in finding the time (yes, the old lame excuse) and in being dedicated enough to start a bunch of imitation poems (3-5 a week) without focusing in on one, making it my own and the hell with imitation, and working to finish it. That's more where I'm at right now. I understand and appreciate the exercising of the imitation poems, just not sure if I'll be able to be that disciplined.

Which brings me (back) to that question I find myself asking myself all the time: Do you have to study poetry---in a sense be a part of the industry---to write good poetry? Is reading poetry, and then setting your hand to it, enough? Now modify that a bit: In a coming back to poetry, where I did study poetry fairly deeply back in college and workshops for a couple years after that, do I also need to come back to studying it, or is reading enough to continue writing after my hiatus of ten years, off-and-on? And the answer is always the same: We'll see.

We'll see what we make of it. Of course, instead of writing this blog I should be writing imitation poems, no?! And this week we move on to Elizabeth Bishop and William Carlos Williams. Promising.

Now I just need to make and keep the promise of doing the exercises....


Suzanne said...

'And if your the maverick who's already a poet, you'll write your own poem in spite of the exercise.'


Simmons B. Buntin said...

I'm thinking of it as inspiration poetry instead of imitation poetry! Let's see what Bishop and WCW, among others, help me create....