Over the years, I’ve attended many poetry workshops, and usually enjoyed them to one degree or another. But little by little, they began to be less helpful. Too many times, the workshop leader attempted to steer the participants into the direction that worked for him or her. They were good poets but not good instructors. For instance, one iconic poet [no point in naming names] said: read the piece you brought to share, but “leave out the bad parts.” Another: “My book costs more than it says because I’m going to sign it.”
Attitudes like this don’t work well with me. I frequently have different ideas and am not afraid to voice them to the teachers, iconic as they may be. Not in an argumentative way, but to present other ways of looking at things, and mostly for the other participants. But some instructors don’t take very well to that, as if we aren’t allowed to have ideas of our own.
The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. Khalil Gibran
I've been in many group settings and am willing to listen to what others have to say, but I change my work based on the reaction of others infrequently. Sometimes what somebody says seems like a good idea, but I tend to think of these things as more of a reaction than a criticism. My most common reply is simply “Thank you for your feedback.”
I believe that we are all our own best critic. We know what we want to say – and perhaps more importantly – how we want to say it. It’s not generally the way someone else would want to say it, but that’s part of the point. On a bit of an amusing note, I once had someone pounce with glee over my word order because it wasn’t grammatically correct. Seemed odd since he had been with the weekly group for a long time and would have known by then that I do these things on purpose.
When I have my editor hat on, or I am participating in a group session, I frequently see work as too unlabored. That is, it seems that words have been selected to serve, but only to serve. There’s nothing wrong with that per se and at times it’s quite effective. However, I like to choose my words – or more precisely: my word combinations – with precision. There’s always a certain quirkiness, nuance and musicality that I want to convey. I appreciate it greatly when others do so also.
Mostly, when it comes to workshops and critiques, I’m a loner. I have enough life experience and exposure to a variety of writing and cultures that I feel good about being my own critic. I’m more interested in staying true to my vision than following the path of others. There’s like-minded souls among my friends and I’m very thankful for that. With them, it’s okay to share work before it gets published. And because they are good and generous people that I trust, I do take their comments under advisement.