Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And what’s an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point I’m lost. I need help.
-from “Workshop” by Billy Collins
If you have ever been in a writing workshop, please click through to read the whole poem. You’ll smile; you’ll laugh; you’ll nod knowingly.
My English major had a focus in creative writing, which means I was in a workshop every semester I was an undergraduate, which I loved and hated by turns. The thing that initially attracted me to Collins’ poem is the way it talks about itself while pretending to talk about something else. Bill Heyen, my favorite workshop leader and the person who convinced me to stay on this path of writing, used to tell us that all poems are on some level about writing poetry, and I think that’s true. Poetry is, in its creation and consumption, about seeing. Here Collins has his eyes open and captures so many of the phrases one starts to hear over and over in workshops (“maybe it’s just me,” “maybe that’s just the way I read it,” “what I’m not sure about is the voice”). Workshop leaders might as well hand out lists of these things at the beginning of the semester; it’s like a different language.
But does Collins have a point besides being clever?
I think he does. You can improve your writing through workshopping, but in the beginning and the end, it’s you and your brain and your words. In the middle, it’s a comfort to know other writers, though–people who understand your weird lifestyle, why you devote so much time to this solitary pursuit, and what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s a relief to find someone willing to overdiscuss the use of commas, who is solid on the difference between the plural and the possessive, and who will go through such verbal contortions in an attempt to be both helpful and kind to another writer. One makes friends in workshops, and it is a gift to find someone who appreciates the l’s in “slow industrial canal below.”
But maybe that’s just me.
Find today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Carol’s Corner.