Thursday, May 7, 2015

Next week I'll be on the road again, teaching the first in a series of workshops on the lyric essay. This should be an interesting set of classes because, while the materials will remain essentially the same for each workshop, the participants will vary considerably. One group will be northcountry high schoolers in a college-level composition class; another will be community members at a seaside continuing-education center; and yet another will be graduate students in an urban MFA program. I almost wish I had a research assistant along for the ride--someone who could focus on taking copious notes on both the discussions and students' responses to the writing prompts.

To avoid any signs of conflict of interest, I've avoided mentioning the contest I just finished judging. Now that it's over, though, I can tell you that I spent a large chunk of April reading poetry submissions for the Frank O'Hara Prize. When the contest coordinator asked me to share some comments about how I went about the job, I told him this:
As I read the entries, I focused on several issues: (1) poems that used language in interesting ways, (2) poems that were dramatically cohesive, (3) poems that expanded beyond the speaker's own personal situation to address a more complex theme or issue, and (4) poems that did not seem to have preconceived endings. Gradually I whittled my stack down to the poems that seemed to do all of these things best.
 As you teach or write or read poems, how do you find yourself "judging" work? Do these criteria seem reasonable to you?

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