Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Tonight finished an eight week Quebec Writer's Federation workshop led by Susan Gillis.
An excellent workshop it was. Susan Gillis was a compassionate and highly sensitive critic and guide, and group, which included some major talents, was remarkably convivial and caring. (In other words -- nobody there to hear the sound of his own voice, or judge others harshly - a common bane of workshops, I understand...) Time was divided between workshopping (a bizarre verb to me yet), sharing a favourite poem or two, and creative writing exercises. Some of the latter produced some fine poems - among them 1) describe a certain bottle in a poem devoid of metaphor, 2) compare that bottle to one of your parents 3) write about the bottle as possessing a personality traits of the person you have in mind without actually naming the person. Another was to take three lines -- an image, a metaphor, a phrase -- from one of the favourite poems and appropriate them into a 12-line, 3 stanza poem of our own. A final exercise was to imitate a poem of a favourite poet. We learned about resources such as Chase Twitchell's Practice of Poetry, which is full of such exercises, as well as Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town, Miller Williams' The Patterns of Poetry - An Encyclopaedia of Forms, and 20th Century Pleasures by Robert Hass.

For me the workshop fulfilled all objectives I could have set out for. For a first workshop experience (well, I went to Toronto's Phoenix Workshop about 16 years ago, was turned off by some picky and arrogant personalities, and never went back), it was a great debut. I got excellent feedback on some of my poems, made some poetry friends, and for sure some of us at least will continue in some way, monthly meetings perhaps…

Word has it (who is that guy named Word?) that the QWF (Quebec Writer's Federation) workshops are often better than those in the Concordia Master's Program, as they attract more seasoned writers… well, this may or may not be true, but this one was a good one.
Does anyone out there perchance have anything to say about that?

So, workshops can be good, even life-changing. Lucky me - or rather, us!

How many out there (who care to answer -- haven't got many replies yet!) have had similar experiences? For those who have been to many workshops, how many could be called good and how many bad?


Charles said...

The best workshop I ever had was with the people I wanted to workshop with. We called ourselves Sundays at One...because that's when we met. It was a good time and lasted about a year, and I learned a lot from those other writers—we shared poems, resources, etc.

Runners-up would be any workshop I ever had with Beckian Fritz Goldberg. She is a wicked editor, which you don't often get in a workshop because people are either putting forth their own aesthetic at the expense of your own or being so fluffy-bunny nice that nothing gets accomplished.

I've read both the Twichell book and the Hugo book and used elements of them in my Intro to Creative Writing course last spring. Other fun resources: "Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms." My favorite book about writing, I think, is called "Introspections," where all these great poets print one of their poems and then write an accompanying essay that deals with an element of writing it. So illuminating.

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks for sharing that with me. I'll look up those books...