Monday, February 20, 2012

So, What's the Deal With Poetry?

No, this isn’t a recap of a Seinfeld episode, although I wonder if it could have made for a good script. Today’s blog is about poetry vs. prose.

Back in the early 2000’s I attended one of the annual weeklong writers workshop at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I camped, in a tent, at the local John Bryan State Park, which was kind of a cool experience and possibly the subject of future posting which I’ll bear in mind.

During that week I wanted to get feedback on my writing. Prose writing. Not poetry. But I quickly learned on day one of that sweltering July week that a prose writer was somehow a second-class citizen. It was the first time I was the subject of phrases like, “beneath the pale” and “just south of center.” No one was really interested in reading prose and as it turned out there were few seminars all week for us minority redheaded stepchildren who allegedly lacked the intelligence or creativity to understand poetry, let alone write it. The bias was unmistakable.

In advance of the workshop I had paid an extra hundred bucks to obtain a one-on-one critique of my writing by a published author. Wouldn’t you know that author was a poet. Ashamed to submit my prose, I quickly wrote some poetry back at camp and handed that in instead. Yes, I succumbed to poetry pressure. I really did. Shocking, isn’t it?

I’d love to say I don’t remember her feedback, but it would be a lie. Her comments are burned into my memory, along with the hazelnut colored picnic bench where we sat while she correctly decimated my work. I remember what we both we wearing and even our sitting positions. Included in that memory etching is the oil slick colored trashcan that looked like an oversized pencil sharpener where I crumpled up and tossed all of my poems once the session was over.

Later that blistering afternoon she practically tackled me in the parking lot. It seems she had forgotten to mention her poetry anthology book was for sale and would I like to buy one. I don’t know what’s worse. That she tried to do it or that I actually bought one.

I’m sure she never thought another thing about that afternoon, but all these years later, I still do because it taught me something about writing what I know in the way I know it. To quote (somewhat adjusted) Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek, “I’m a prose writer, Jim, not a poet.”


  1. Holly,
    WOW! What a story! :) I would have died. Poetry is so hard and subjective. And I know the feeling of a second-class citizen--sometimes, if you are in a group of novel writers, and you write short stories--you feel it. If you are a children's writer with adult novelists, you feel it. I say, "Don't judge" until you walk in my shoes. Anyway, you probably learned something from it, hopefully, and that's all we can ever hope for.

  2. I didn't realize how much hierarchy there was in writing. Good grief!

  3. It burns me when writers don't encourage and support one another. They don't have to be all warm and fuzzy about your stuff...but encouraging. One doesn't "make it" is a voyage and process and various genres are different, but it still takes being in touch with the a writer, shaping and crafting words...just differently. Anyway, I wonder what happened to this illustrious woman??? Not.