Sunday, August 07, 2005
This first one is only for those of you who were in a creative writing program. How do you feel about creative writing programs and competition? How was the competitive atmosphere? Was this atmosphere mostly student directed, or from professors? In the end, do you feel this competition moved you and your poetry forward? Or maybe that it kept you back in some way?
Please explain, and feel free to add any additional questions/answers for yourself about such things.
Personally I have never had any experience with creative writing programs, but I have had quite a few conversations with poets who have. Some seemed to flourish, while others were left bitter and angry. And do NOT assume that those left bitter and angry are bad writers, because that's not at all the case with some pissed off friends of mine.
At the original PhillySound Festival a couple of years ago I hosted a live 9for9 panel. I asked the 9 poets how they felt about creative writing programs, and of course received very different opinions. Some said the programs are a waste of time, some said they are dangerous, while others said they're fantastic, and that one way they are good is that they afford you the time you want and need to write and study poetry. But this question isn't about programs in that broad sense, it's about the competitive nature of the programs.
How do we all feel about Walt Whitman writing reviews of Leaves of Grass under various pseudonyms? This was something I didn't know about until one of my visits to the Whitman house in Camden, when a young history student was the curator. He showed us pictures of what a mess Whitman's room had been at the time of his death with trash to the knees. In that trash is where they found drafts of his reviews of his work.
But is it unethical to write glowing reviews for yourself? What are your feelings?
To me it was incredibly funny, and made me like Whitman even more. My reaction horrified a couple of friends, which forced me to compose an argument, which is the sort of thing that always tests your morals and ethics, and soon enough I found I had many fewer morals and ethics than my friends.
My argument was (and still is) simply, Why Not? I mean, seriously, ask yourself, do you LIKE a book of poetry better because of a positive review? Don't you in fact have your own ideas about it regardless of a review? That's my experience. But it's also my experience that I have searched out books of poetry because of a review, and that that review in a sense was something to get my taste buds working, but never to decide on the end result of how I felt about the book once found.
Is it a big deal to you that Whitman wrote these reviews? Or do you maybe see it like I do, that he was simply saying, "Hey, I'm pretty damn good, check me out!"?