Friday, March 21, 2008

P&W Pieces

The current Poets & Writers has been much more impactful for me than the last few, getting me thinking about my writing, my opinions on writing, and my opinions on other things as well. Just a few bits:

On "Googling" one's self (page 14): Yes, it can be vain, and yes it does answer the question "Does the world love us", but it more importantly can alert us to things incorrectly attributed to us and/or misappropriation of our work. If you have a not-uncommon surname, you may also find names very like yours that are not you. One particular search string might lead you to, instead of me, a world-class chess player or a B&B owner with names close enough to be confusable with mine.

The Importance of Place (page 27) brought forcefully home for me the point that my recent writing slump has corresponded directly to a period of unavialability of my home office. In my process, this downtime eliminated the "sift and save" element of transcribing my drafts, leaving me with an hour of unedited audio and half a notebook over the last year, but no poems that are worth much. Didn't realize how important this little desk is to my productivity.

Mark Doty's comments on memoir (page 33) is insightful, and I hesitate to criticize someone whose poems populate so much of my own bookshelf... but one thing rang really hollow for me. Quoting: "But it's a childish version of ethics simply to declare that it's wrong to make things up, and it seems like far too easy a position to claim that what makes a memoir ethical is that it's factually accurate." Sorry, but this is just wrong. If we repurposed this sentence to accept honest misremembering (which, by the way, defines his examples of "fiction" in his own memoirs), I'd be OK with it. But to accept "making things up" in a form that purports itself as factual is misrepresentation, pure and simple. The label carries an implication; deliberately failing to meet it seems to be the very definition of unethical. But the rest of the essay is quite interesting.

Loved, loved, LOVED Dan Barden's "Rant Against Creative Writing Classes". I couldn't possibly represent it well enough here so I'll just give a favorite line: "... the workshop promotes the idea to young writers that their writing is required reading, that an audience is guaranteed. When really, postworkshop, no one will ever be forced to look at their work again." As someone who has screened a lot of applications for features in a reading series and hosted a lot of open mics, I love this point, and his other central thesis that learning is not a democratic process. By definition, instructors are expected to know more than students. And students can't maintain opposite opinions and learn effectively. Period. This has applications way broader than creative writing.

Much other good stuff in this issue. Maybe I'll get back to it after a few days catching up on my own stuff.

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