it’s not about brownie points

27 October, 2009

Well, it’s been a while… Since I last posted I had my first workshop where my own work was critiqued. The really scary part was getting all my writing to a state where I was vaguely happy with it; it was a bit of a rush, and I ended up sending round two pieces that I felt were nearly there, and two pieces that I knew were really only very early drafts. But the important thing was to get them sent round.

Then I spent the weekend trying not to think about seven other people reading them.

By the time Tuesday rolled round I was so nervous I was just pretending that it wasn’t going to happen. I think the fear was simply about people not liking my work – or, worse, thinking I shouldn’t be on the course. Of course it went fine, and the hour or so I had was both wonderful and awful, and for the same reason: close scrutiny of your work. On the one hand it’s terrifying, because everything’s exposed; on the other, having people pay close attention to the words that you’ve put together so carefully is really what it’s all about. It’s not just about getting feedback, it’s about what you’ve written finally having what it’s meant to: an audience.

Aside from the thrill of having seven good writers read your work as if it’s actually worth something, it was of course very good to get feedback – both positive and negative. One of the (many) helpful things our tutor has said is that the most helpful criticism is what the poet him or herself instinctively knows to be true – when someone highlights a doubt you yourself had about your work. But I also took on board some weaknesses that I hadn’t noticed, and conversely was delighted to get some very positive noises about one piece in particular – and I’m not going to pretend that having a T. S. Eliot-prizewinning poet and academic say of one of your pieces ‘it’s a 95% excellent poem’ isn’t rather thrilling…

After the workshop I had a tutorial by myself, which again was both helpful and inspiring. We talked about the other pieces I’d sent round that hadn’t been discussed in the workshop, and also my difficulties in breaking out of the lyric form – I came away with some very helpful and interesting ideas. Most of all, I was encouraged to experiment, take risks; and the most powerful thing was to be reminded that this course isn’t about turning up each week with ‘good’ pieces, in order to amass poetic brownie points; but to try to do difficult things and not worry about failing. Great advice, but so hard to take…

I have to confess I’m still finding the writing coming very hard, and very slowly. Much of it is to do with getting into good rhythms and routines. I’m confident I’ll get there, though. Right now I’m working on an advent piece (one of the drafts I sent round; I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with it to be honest); a piece about my youngest sister; and I’ve just started what I hope will be a sequence of three pieces in terza rima about some childhood incidents. Oh and if I have the time, something about how learning how to run might teach me how to write…

We have a week off from our Poetics module this Friday so I’m taking myself off up north to visit some good old friends, plus cousins. I’ve been promised long walks, home-made soup, backgammon, good chat, and maybe some lamb… just what I need, I reckon, and hopefully time and space for lots of reading and writing.

This post brought to you by the steps to the lindy circle, with music by Campus Five and words by Wendy Cope

2 Responses to “it’s not about brownie points”

  1. Ella Fantasia said

    I’m feeling a warm glow about you doing what you love. Every time the fear creeps in, stand up to it and banish it – it is all about taking a risk, this year of all years. This is not a year for coasting in the shallows, it’s for striding out and discovering as-yet unknown reserves and rewards which your whole self will thank you for – IMO of course!

  2. […] encouraging stuff. But I’m glad to have it out of the way. It’s not about brownie points, but when your work is being marked, it kind of is. Posted by kayvee Filed in Uncategorized […]

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