I started VRS CRFT with the aim of developing a service I would want to use.
There comes a point when it’s useful to get another set of eyes on your work. So often though I’ve found those other sets of eyes are the source of more doubt.
After attending a critique circle in Philadelphia, or a one-day workshop, or even an 8-week workshop, I found it incredibly difficult to get myself to revisit the suggestions for revision. Who was I in this process anymore? I felt like I had already given my poems away.
Hindsight is not always 20/20. At the time of the critique, when poets were actively talking about what was working or not working in a poem, it was easy enough to tell myself there was a problem if it was pointed out by several others in the group. But far more often, one poet would say such and such word must go, or such and such line must go, and then another poet would chime in and say the complete opposite—that was my favorite word, my favorite line, in the entire poem!
Compliments can make you feel like you’re moving in the right direction, making progress, and bolstering your right to write is important. So, I’m not saying avoid critique circles and workshops—they have their place, and provide an important service in the literary community. My aim to provide a different, more personal, and more nuanced service.
Our instinct as poets is to want to rewrite the poem as we would have delivered it ourselves. It may seem like the choice is to either give in or fight against this urge. If you give in, likely an unconscious decision, what you’re telling the rest of us is that my way is the right way, end of story. If you’re fighting the urge to try and make others see it your way, you’ll find it’s not a one shot deal. When it comes down to it, the ideal approach is to find a balance. Each time you approach a poem you must remind yourself this is someone else’s voice—how can I help make this unique voice sing its unique songs? Bearing this in mind, I may still tell you my approach, how I would write something if you were me; however, I’m not going to present a suggestion in the veiled manner of “This is the way it ought to be done.”
I’m not here to tell you how to write your poems, I’m here to help you write the poems you want to be writing.
Fiction writers are often told, “Write the story you want to read.” The implication being that you have a story in you that is original, authentic, and that has not and cannot be told by anyone but you. The same is true of poetry. I’ll go one step further and say this is even more true when it comes to writing poetry.
Write the poem you want to read.
When we begin a coach-poet relationship, I think it’s best to focus on the particulars of intention as opposed to the overall work. Does this poem contain the urgent words you want to express to the world?
I always tell other poets that I like poetry that gives the reader a certain amount on first read. What I mean by this is that I want readers to have an immediate takeaway. I do not want readers to reach the end of the poem and question why they just read what they read. That’s not ideal. If you look at a poem by Billy Collins or Mary Oliver that is highly narrative driven, you will come away from the poem with at least a partial sense that you “got it.” An effective lyrical poem, with strong concise images, can provide an equally lasting impression on your reader. That’s not to say poems written by Oliver and Collins do not offer more upon re-reading. They can and do and should. A poem should not aim to only be read once. In other words, poetry is not a “once and done” endeavor. You want to haunt the reader, in a good way, in a way that encourages the reader to return to your poem. There are myriad ways to go about this, and that’s an area I find worthwhile to discuss with VRS CRFT poets.
Is VRS CRFT for me?
I’d like the answer to be yes, without qualification, but we do not live in a black and white world. What I can say is that *trying* a VRS CRFT service is for everyone. I offer a service and do not want to do anyone a disservice—especially when it comes to your art!
What is tricky about a service like VRS CRFT is I’m the product. I’d like to think I can find a way to assist anyone with their poetry, at least in some manner, but this is not always the case. The editor-writer relationship is complex and sometimes personalities simply do not mesh. All I can say is I put forth my best effort.