Take My Workshop, Please (Or At Least Let Me Sit In on Yours)
If my second year as a fiction writer in the MFA program has a theme it is this: I am often the only non-poet in the room. I’m dating a poet, I live with two poets, and I spend most of my extracurricular time hanging out at bars or readings with poets.
There are a few prevailing theories as to why this is the case. My friend Drew, a poet, says it’s because I’m secretly a poet. To me, this sounds suspiciously like “you are what you eat,” but Drew’s a smart guy. The poets, as chorus, say it’s because poets are the best. I can’t get them to articulate criteria for “the best;” they don’t like criteria. I want to say it has to do with the engaged and intellectual community that exists around poetry in a way that is lacking in fiction (What’s the ratio of poetry to fiction readings in a given city? Ten to one?), but a not-so-quiet voice in my head tells me it has more to do with the amount of time I spend in bars.
There are a few more theories, having to do with bird omens, traditional fiction, and an unfortunate orange fungus I ate as a child, but in the context of this blog post the why of my spending time with poets is unimportant. I bring up this life-theme here because my time spent around the poetry cohort at CSU, talking to them about art, writing, workshop, etc., has lead me to an idea I’d like to share: I think fiction and poetry need to sit in on each other’s workshops.
The proposal: once every semester, fiction would read all of the student poems and outside reading assigned to the poets in a given week. We would then attend workshop, sit outside the workshop circle (I’m picturing two concentric circles of desks), and not participate. We would simply listen to the voices of our fellow students and of the professor as they discussed the work in front of them. On another day, poetry would repeat this process with fiction workshop.
I am not proposing we take each other’s workshops: this is a small program, we already have enough trouble reading three-plus stories/poems for each student each semester, and nobody should be subjected to my poetry. I am instead proposing that we gain exposure to the way the other genre approaches the work. I think experiencing the two different styles of workshop, the diverse work (perhaps tending to be more traditional in fiction, less so in poetry), our fellow students’ voices, and of course to different faculty members in the context of workshop could be valuable. My initial motivation for suggesting this plan had to do with my belief that the poets in this program are more encouraged to think of themselves as artists and intellectuals (perhaps because writing poetry is almost never a commercially lucrative occupation) and that the fiction writers are more critical of each other’s work (perhaps because it’s easier to make craft-based critiques on a twenty-page story). A poet friend pointed out that I was over-simplifying things; she was right. Still, there are good reasons – some of which are listed above – to do this. At the very least it’ll promote some important cross-genre love.
There would of course be scheduling difficulties – we’d probably have to hold workshop at a different time and place to accommodate everyone’s schedule – but these are easy to overcome. It’s my last semester in workshop, and I’m going to try to make this happen in the coming months. It’s quite possible that won’t work out. I know everyone is already counting the papers they have to write and grade before May. But if it doesn’t happen, at least this post will sit here, on the interwebs, an idea to be considered.