Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cork Spring Poetry Festival - Saturday 1

I attended the Carolyn Forché workshop/masterclass on Saturday morning at Cork Spring Poetry Festival. The eleven participants had sent in a poem each and these were circulated some days beforehand so I had a chance to read and think about all the poems. Great poems but a very mixed bunch as regards theme, style and even shape.

The participants had either a  first collection recently published or were on the verge of having one published. Some I knew, others I didn't. We did the introductions, told a little about ourselves, including one strange thing each.

Carolyn outlined her approach. She had carefully considered each poem in advance and had made notes on the pages. She began each response with a general reaction to the poem, a larger look, and then suggested some elements which might need attention. As she dealt with each poem she discussed some general issues - enjambment, how much do you tell the reader, when do you know the poem is finished etc.

And she had the endearing habit of ending her suggestions of changes with "But I may be wrong". She advised waiting a few days before deciding whether to implement suggested changes or not. The participants were invited to contribute their ideas on the poems as well and this added a lot to the session.

My poem, Dead Man's Shoes, she thought was good, effective but needed some changes. She suggested changing the order of some stanzas and omitting the final one. She spoke about how difficult it is to know when to finish. Often the last line or the last stanza needs to be omitted. As indeed the first stanza often is superfluous.

Some issues which were common to a couple of poems included the question of how much information the reader needs. Two poems had longish explanatory quotes after the title and in general she was against this.

On the other hand some of the poems needed more information to allow the reader into the poem.She advised some scaffolding, some narrative, in order to give the reader some idea of what is happening.

Concrete details are always important, avoid the general, the kind of language which appears in advertisements and publicity. She expressed a liking for longer connected sentences over short stopped sentences. One poem actually consisted of one long sinuous sentence and was very effective.

She spoke of keeping a poet's notebook in which she entered striking images and words she came across. A poet should have a list of loved words which was constantly being added to.

Poems and poets she mentioned in commenting on individual poems included The Instruction Manual by John Ashbury, Questions to Tourists Stopped by the Pineapple Field by W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic's poems on ordinary items such as The Fork, and the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish.

And much much more. All delivered in a friendly, serious, interested tone. Thanks to Carolyn and the other participants it was a pleasure to attend.

Carolyn Forché is included in the audio podcast series, Essential American Poets. An audio of her reading in 2007 at the University of Arizona is online here. A video of another Arizona reading is on Vimeo here, screenshot above, and a reading at the Rothko Chapel in 2010 is here. Lots on YouTube as well.

Now back to the Dead Man's Shoes!


Afric McGlinchey said...

Thanks so much for this, Michael, especially the links. Great to meet you finally. Wasn't it an amazing few days? And Carolyn Forché's workshop the highlight!
See you at another event soon, I hope.

Good luck with your Dead Man's Shoes! I've already revisited mine...lots of changes!

Michael Farry said...

Thanks Afric. Yes, a very enjoyable festival and a great workshop.

Connie Roberts said...

Thanks for posting such a detailed account of the workshop, Michael. I felt like I was there!

I still get goosebumps when I read Forche's poem "The Colonel"--the bag of ears, argh! Terrific poet.