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Something at stake

In which MA students respond to the following questions (vox pop) 1) What does a good workshop look/sound like? 2) What does a bad workshop look/sound
And what, for me, makes a good workshop is a secure and a safe place for creative and artistic exploration with colleagues, with your peers. Poetry can be such a sedentary and lonely act, that you’re mostly working on by yourself, or going in your head by yourself. When you share your work, it has to be in a safe and respectful environment, where you’re going to get positive feedback, or positive criticism so you can go away and feel revived again to do more work on your poems. And to take that away from a workshop is a great feeling of satisfaction where it’s a collective, creative enterprise. I think that’s important.
Because usually you take to a workshop something that’s a first or second draft that you know needs more work, so you need that positive input. And pointers how to improve your work. I think another point for me would be a workshop group that’s not too big, where you know that everybody’s going to get a chance to be heard and to have an equal share of the time.
Sometimes you go to workshops where there’s just too many people in the room and it ends up being very rushed. Or sometimes one or two individuals can seem to hog the conversation. And for that not to happen, you need a real good workshop leader to manage both time and make sure that everybody gets a fair crack at the whip. Yeah, I think the lead is really important. They can give a structure in terms of time. But also, they set the tone of how we work together, and that makes a real big difference. So if people are on board with the fact that people in a group might have really different ideas about what poetry is.
But if people are open minded to go, well, this isn’t a poem that I’d write, but I can understand why and supportive it in that way just more than it being about rules, it being about supporting each other. I think that works best for me. I agree. I think the size is quite important as well in creating the right atmosphere. If you’ve got the right positive atmosphere, it gives people the chance to be critical as well. Because sometimes you find that people are unwilling to actually criticise, and then you don’t really come away with enough critique of your poetry to move it forward, which isn’t the greatest, is it? People just sit there and say, it’s lovely, I loved it.
You don’t come out and say what you really mean. So the atmosphere’s important to let people do that though, isn’t it? I always think, too, it’s good to be able to find something positive to say about a poem first before you get into the nitty-gritty of I’ll take this line out, or whatever. It depends on how it’s done though, doesn’t it? You want to be critical, and you want to give an honest response to the work. But if you do it in a sense of collaboration, of working together, and respectfully, then that is really important. Even though you might be actually seemingly tearing the poem apart, but you’re doing it for a purpose, to make it better. It’s not personal.
It’s about the poetry. I think that’s something that Carol Ann brought out for me in her workshops, that we were working on poetry. We weren’t working on each other. There was no sense of one-upmanship or something like that. I think it can be quite intense, can’t it, people bringing their work to share– And quite rightly. –maybe for first time. And if that’s managed well, then that’s really positive. You can get quite a lot out of a workshop that you can’t get in any other way of getting feedback. So it’s just about supporting that so people feel relaxed but able to share what they want to say. So in summary, what would make a good workshop is a good class size.
Not too big, so everyone can have some input and get enough out of the workshop. Having an emphasis on the art, rather than a personal element to it. A good atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable. A good leader, a good tutor taking the workshop, to direct the conversation so that everyone gets their say and gets something out of it.

In the next two steps, we will be exploring a creative writing workshop. In this workshop you will meet students who have regularly done workshops with both Helen and before that their tutor, Carol Ann Duffy. (This is who they are referring to half way through!)

In the video, the students describe their ideal workshop scenario. What did it make you think? What rules would you have at your own workshop?

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How To Make A Poem

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