Workshopping Poetry

I haven’t been to a poetry workshop for quite a while, so am thinking seriously about heading down to a local one tomorrow night; even though the poetry theme for the evening is ‘narrative’; not what I tend to write.

I have workshopped a lot of poetry with students, theirs and mine, and there is a skill in getting that balance between everyone smiling and saying ‘how nice’ etc. and too hard criticism.

So I was interested when the workshop leader emailed me some workshop guidelines and etiquette including:

  • Using phrases such as ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t like it’ are meaningless unless backed by concrete examples; e.g., ‘The metaphor opening the poem works for me because it strikes me as original yet it reminds me of Shakespeare….’ Be specific.

  • Write your comments on your copy of the poem before handing back to the poet (and sign your name). It can be difficult to remember everything that was said during the workshop – written critiques are useful to reflect upon later.

  • Handle other people’s poems with respect, i.e., do not doodle on them, leave coffee rings on them or let the dog eat them.

  • Return all poems – if you wish to keep a copy, ask the poet first.

For some reason I hadn’t really thought much about the mechanics of the paper-shuffle, and that the idea of bringing copies of the poem was for you to write something and give the paper back.


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