So I mentioned in a previous post that in the first week of February I took Carolyn Forché's class at 24PearlStreet, the online classroom of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Today I'll give you some of my impressions about the experience.
The 5-day course was structured so that a writing prompt was given the weekend before the course, with a poem due midnight Monday. Response to other poets' work was due Tuesday midnight, and some time on Tuesday or late Monday a new prompt was issued, for a poem due Wednesday midnight. By Thursday midnight we were to respond to everyone else's second poem, and Friday we were to post revisions of the first and second poems, and comment.
Carolyn generously provided us an optional third prompt later in the week, so we were free to post a third poem, if we desired. Each prompt was actually a choice of three different prompts, for nine prompts total. This was great, so that while I used three prompts during the week, I still have six more to use later on my own, if I desire. Carolyn also linked us to websites, readings available online, and also posted some notes about poetry, poetic devices, voice, and other topics. She also continued to comment on Saturday, when the course was officially over, and the site has remained open for participants to comment on one another's work or communicate, as they please.
As you can guess, just getting the work done by the deadline was overwhelming, and so while I drafted three poems that I have high hopes for, I didn't have time to ask about the supplementary readings, and my responses to other's work was not in every case as thorough as I'd have liked it to be. Likewise the other participants were not able to respond to everyone's pieces thoroughly, and even our fearless leader had to be briefer with her comments than I personally had hoped for.
That said, I did learn a number of things. First, reading others' work and the critiques to others' work always stimulates new ideas and helps me reflect on my own work. But here's the crucial thing I learned: that I can draft a complete poem in a single day. This is something I never do. I consider 4 or 5 lines a very successful day of writing. I spend an inordinate amount of time getting those 4 or 5 lines (or 2 or 10 or whatever, but almost never a complete poem), and I think hard about them, discarding many other lines along the way. Then I put the poem away and come back to it another day, relying on my unconscious to do the heavy lifting so that when I come back I can get another 4 or 5 lines.
With poems due in 24-hour periods, this method was not going to work for me, and frankly I wasn't sure I'd be able to complete the assignments. But, to my surprise, I found that I can push through and get a poem drafted in a day. It means that not much else got done those days (which is okay because my teaching semester is over and my studying for my degree completed), but I figured out that when I have to, I can push through. That was the most astonishing thing I learned, which means that by taking a course whose structure I hadn't found comfortable, I was able to stretch myself. So yay for that.
I had also hoped to connect with some of the other participants, maybe even forming a relationship that would continue after the workshop ended. Living in Japan and not having much poetic companionship, this was one of my primary goals in taking this workshop. I'm sorry to report that I don't seem to have made such a connection. The frenetic pace of finishing assignments seemed to discourage the forging of relationships. Or maybe one will emerge yet......
Overall, I learned a lot, though in the future I will take a slower (assignments more spaced out through time) course in order to increase my chances of fostering a relationship with another poet, and because I think it will suit my default process more (though I'm still grateful to have learned my default isn't my only option). I don't quite feel that I got the value for my money in this course (it was a pricey workshop) but I guess I was paying in part for the big name poet as leader. I'm not sorry I took this class, but I will make my choices differently in the future: intensive courses are probably not for me. Taking this course as my first experience in online workshops has helped me clarify what it is I want, all part of the learning process.
24PearlStreet does offer options that stretch out over longer periods of time, for the same price as this intensive course. The tech support was perfection: I had no problems at any time. Very professionally done. So check them out, along with other online workshops.