Poetry versus Academic Writing

For the first time in 5 years, since my senior year at Bucknell, I am in a poetry workshop, an MFA seminar in the English Department here at University of Maryland, taught by Michael Collier. Ever since I arrived in graduate school I have wanted to take a poetry class, but was told by my adviser that I should wait till I was done with other coursework and was closer to writing my dissertation. With the success of my poetry reading in October at the Feminist Symposium that I organized with other graduate students, and ABD (All But Dissertation) status on the horizon in April when I will defend my prospectus, I knew this semester was the right time!

So far it has been a wonderful experience, though challenging, as I try and fit in weekly poetry writing into a schedule that is already packed with teaching, writing my prospectus, auditing a methods class, and babysitting. I am loving the regular poetry writing practice that it is encouraging, and also the immersion into poetry and discovery of new poets. Being able to spend time on my own creative process feels a bit selfish in some ways, but also so very necessary for my spirit, and while I would find it valuable regardless of whether it impacted my academics or not, it has the added benefit of improving my writing overall.

Still, in regards to writing style, the initial feedback that I received in my poetry seminar made me realize the difference between academic writing and poetry, and helped me make sense of some of the criticism I have received in regards to my academic writing. For four years my advisers have been telling me that while my writing is lyrical and descriptive I need to more clearly delineate my argument for the reader, I need to take them step by step through all of my conclusions. In contrast, in the first two weeks of my poetry seminar I was told that I tell the reader too much, that I shouldn’t make the conclusions so clear, and that I need to leave more up to interpretation. In both cases, my descriptive abilities have been encouraged and honored, but it shows the difference in these different types of writing, and readers’ expectations. 

The other very important thing that I have learned from this poetry seminar is getting used to critique and feedback about my writing. While the stakes are a bit lower given that this work is not related to my career and academic trajectory, poetry is still very important to me, and of course I want to prove myself in a class full of MFA students. The first few weeks it was hard to get my poem ripped apart and critiqued (even though it was done in the sweetest way possible), but with a weekly workshop, I am getting used to this regular critique. In the end, I think it has helped me be able to separate my personal feelings from the writing, something which has been really important this semester, as I meet with my adviser about drafts of my prospectus!

Also, Michael Collier who runs the workshop, is amazing at neatly encapsulating the way that a poem is working or not working and to suggest how to help it move forward into a better place.  I greatly appreciate his guidance and manner of being. 

Overall, I am happy to be in this class, and to dedicate time to my poetry and writing practices. I hope that all of you are also able to fit writing into your life, and am curious about your experiences with workshops, and different styles of writing.


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