Anita Chapman’s interesting blogpost about the benefits and drawbacks of taking excerpts from the first draft of a novel to a writing workshop has got me thinking about when it’s best to take poetry. At what stage of the writing process will scrutiny by others benefit a poem?
It’s a relevant question for me because I’ve just booked to attend three seminars and workshops run by the poet, critic and teacher, Carrie Etter. For the first session I was thinking of taking a poem that I’ve worked on for some time, in fact for over a year, and submitted to several competitions without any success. Each time the poem has been rejected, I’ve tinkered with it some more. I felt it was a good poem even if several competition judges had dumped it in the shredder, so I recently sent it to a poetry journal (at the Editor’s invitation) but it wasn’t accepted.
Now I’m undecided about the poem. I’ve worked on it so intensely, for such a long time, I’m finding it difficult to evaluate dispassionately. Perhaps this poem really needs a serious overhaul. So I’m thinking it would be good to take it to a workshop where it will be read with fresh eyes. Perhaps constructive criticism from others will open new and exciting avenues for this poem.
But on the other hand, maybe this is a poem I should now put to one side, recognise I’ve worked on it for long enough, move on to other work. Although I’ve started and finished other poems, this one is still stealing creative energy that I could be spending elsewhere. I’ve written two new poems recently, for instance; should I take one of these to the workshop where I will have the chance to gage the reactions of eight different readers?
If you show a poem too early, will the creative process be hindered?
But, what if, by showing my work at this early stage, having only just written it, I interfere with the creative process that can occur when a piece of writing is put to bed for a period of time and read again from a new perspective after a few days, weeks or months? What if a new poem, allowed out when it should be resting, listens closely to different suggestions about its potential shape and morphs into a completely different poem than the one I had originally intentioned? What if I lose sight of the original idea that sparked its conception?
What do others think? When is the best time to workshop a poem?