Poetry

Feedbacks for Dummies

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For session #6, Ron asked us to submit a poem that we wanted our classmates to read and gives us feedbacks on. Our session at Southbank Centre was quite packed: the wandering, the Poetry Library and even the individual feedbacks – it was a great class. Before everything, anyway, we started with reading the catalysts. The first was Jericho Brown, author of the essay “The Possibility of God”. In the excerpt, he talks about line breaks and states that they have everything to do with doubt and that’s what makes poetry so different from prose: poetry is “infused with doubt”. The moment of the line break is the one when you are thrown into a place of uncertainty, where you are not sure about what happened or what is going to happen. Only faith that the next line will land us on solid ground, says the author, is what keeps us breathing.

This is a very romantic way to look at things. I am not sure if I completely agree on what the author thinks about the difference between prose and poetry – I think prose is infused with doubt just like poetry, only, in a very different way. It reminded me of Octavia Butler saying that she wrote about things she did not understand or she was worried of. But the concept of line break as a moment of uncertainty, like a pirouette into the void, is something that I can totally see in my own poetry as well – the line break is a moment where you want yourself and your reader to pause, to have a very short halt before plunging back again into the narrative. Concerning Octavia Butler, she was also the second catalyst, and I related very much with what she said: the writer should forget talent and inspiration and rely on habit, on commitment, on continued learning. Imagination and talent are important and must be used, but persisting is even more important. This quote, from “Furor Scribendi”, made me feel a bit better about my poetry. I am not a poetry writer and I always feel like my poetry is shit, but this is a very negative attitude and I really need to get out of it. Even if I am so convinced not to be talented in poetry, I know that I can rely on my commitment, curiosity and passion, which are all important parts of a writer’s life.

The last catalyst was Marianne Moore, on The Paris Review, where she compared the work of the poet with the one of the scientist, stating that they both experiment and waste effort in order to obtain the best result. “Each is attentive to clues, each must narrow the choice, must strive for precision…”. The process of writing poetry is constantly on the move, is a continuous research and discovery. To me, this meant a lot because my own writing (whether it be fiction or poetry) is constantly changing to the point that what I wrote just a while ago is not satistying to me anymore. This is not a positive attitude either, so I need to work on this again. It’s not like my past writing is shit, it’s just constantly evolving. It does become different. It does get better, sometimes. This is another way to look at it. I love how catalysts are like personal motivators.

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However, even with the most positive attitude I would still be scared of feedbacks, both from Ron and my classmates. Well, it is not really that I am scared of feedbacks – I know that even the worst ones are important for my own development as a writer and person. But it is scary to make other people read our stuff. On the other hand, feedbacks offer new perspectives. If they are given with kindness and honesty, they are the most valuable thing a writer can have. Since everyone had submitted a piece, Ron wanted us to pick one (we did not know who wrote what) and to give feedbacks on it in class, and then repeat the whole process at home with the other pieces. He told us to notice how the work is different from anything we had read, what could be helpful, what could be worked on, what we could suggest development about (here’s what you could try…), what worked. He told us not to use formulas like I don’t like, I love, I like, I don’t get, and not to simply notice what was not working but also suggesting ways and proposing new ideas.

The editor, he said, does not tell you this is how you should write, but explores and analyses what’s on the page and what is possible to do to improve it. This was an introductory feedback session to the next classes, that would be dedicated to a lot of peer feedback. He told us that the editorial experience needs to be honest and genuine. He told us to come with noticing, commenting on what feels different and unique about the drafts that we are reading, what’s remarkable and extraordinary, and also suggesting that the authors try something new, asking questions, showing them how their piece could be different and maybe improved. We picked the poem Obstruction #9 by Sophie, a beautiful poem about Ireland. I did a lot of underlining, circling, noticing. This is my feedback attempt:

  1. What is unique, different. Dark, gloomy colours; alternation between idylliac seaside and the city. It is a sharp poem, full of violent and strong images. Forces of nature are beautifully described.
  2. A question. You mention two places that I want to see more in detail: how do they affect the speaker’s feelings, attitude, emotions?
  3. Propose a new version. I think the best thing of this poem is the presence of very dark colours which are important details of the place, they embody the atmosphere of this poem. Some very vague and broad terms like dream, heart, soul, give me peace could be transformed into more concrete and real details.

After this introduction, Ron told us to select other pieces that we may want to send him and to bring in class to receive feedbacks on. He told us to work on all the other poems we had received by our classmates with the same structure: what is unique about a poem, a question, a suggestion.

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