Poetry Workshop

I am required
to take a poem,
two poems actually,
to a poetry
editing workshop;
two poems
which I am prepared
to have dissected,
torn apart, criticised
and turned into
something else;
a David Tait poem

So I will not take
my babies;
those precious,
heartfelt, fragile
poems from which
I cannot divorce
my inner self.
And yet they too
merit the application
of a critical eye,
but can I allow myself
to feel the pain?
I fear that I might cry.


37 Responses to “Poetry Workshop”

  1. lol Aww poor you. Sometimes you just have to let go! I am sure your poems are intelligent enough to take a bit of critic analysing 🙂 and if they are shred to pieces, you can always take them home and nurse back to health!

    If you think your poems are good, then they are good, as you are a good writer. And if others say they read this or that in it where you never said so, tell them different! (I did, remember how angry I was! 🙂 ) But I can empathize about your reluctance. Maybe not seeing them as babies, but as adolesent raging roomfillers might help you to take 2 obstinate ones with you. And if the most personal ones are too personal, than I suggest take some funny ones, like this one here. or one that has been discussed many times on your blog, you know then what to expect! 🙂 Don’t cry please! 🙂 Only if they move you, and see stuff you never realized!

    But who am I to give advice. You have experience in reading and analysing of your poems.
    I am thinking of going for the first time to a poetry group here next Monday, ladies only for some reason that I don’t understand, they have an open house. You can bring your own poem so they say. I am much too scared to read it aloud! 🙂

    Hope you won’t regret your haircut, it is getting cold! 🙂

    Arohanui 🙂

    • *Smile*

      Thank you Ina,

      I actually enjoy the feedback process on poetry.
      But I would only ever take a poem I was not happy with so that I can get some help with improving it.

      My ‘Seasons in the City’ poem was one where feedback helped make it a better poem – the original version really wasn’t very good!!!

      But you are right, I might take this poem just for a bit of fun 🙂

      I hope you do enjoy the poetry workshop on monday. Reading your poems becomes less scarey after the first time. 🙂

      My haircut makes me look more distinguished I think 🙂


      • More distinguished, did you walk around like a hippy then ? 🙂

      • Ah Ina,

        Usually when I get my hair cut it makes me look younger, 🙂 but this time he must have done it a little bit differently 🙂

        I do have a tendency to let it grow quite long before I get it cut 🙂

  2. critic = critical I think.

  3. David your poems are very good and some are very deep, they don’t need torn apart.
    As Ina said do a few funny ones to break the trend, like my poems 🙂

    But if you go to the workshop, take along a pack of tissues 😆

  4. That’s the scary thing about writing. You give so much of yourself — a piece of yourself, if you think about it — that the idea of sharing it to be criticized can get pretty overwhelming. In a way, you can’t help but feel that you, and not your writing, become the object of criticism because writing feels that personal. I remember attending my first workshop. I was so proud of my short story but after that session, my poor little tale was marked in bloody red ink.

    But at the same time, an objective eye can be quite helpful. The rewrites, more often than not, turn out to be more resonant and striking.


    • Ah, I remember that first occasion too *Wry smile*

      But I did realise that actually what had been said made sense. My second book lost its way part way through – without the feedback I got I would not have been able to rescue it – the Leeds Writers Circle is such a wonderful resource when I am prepared to use it.
      I also have some friends (good poets themselves) who I know have the best interest of my writing at heart – they are the ones who are often hardest on me but I will always listen. Not that I feel obliged to take their advice (nor would they expect me to). I have a good number of poems which have benefitted. 🙂

      I was encouraged in this process when I attended a session run by Sharon Olds – if a poet as good as she is puts her poems through this process then surely I should be prepared to with mine.

      And, having said all that, there are still some poems which I am not prepared to take to a workshop!! 🙂


  5. I especially like these lines and identify with them:

    from which
    I cannot divorce
    my inner self.

    I read that as not only referring to the poems, but whatever experience prompted the writing of them. Very difficult to expose either to objective criticism! And both so intertwined.

    • *Smile*

      Those are the poems BH which I find it difficult to expose to a workshop.
      Poems like my ‘Living in the City’ series are one thing, but the deeper, painful ones are something else 🙂


  6. i don’t believe in one ‘poet’ editing another’s work …. though i tried applying that in the rocking road poetry site i did that one time, but the only picking apart that was done was me on my own writing, and then the critics were a part of saying what they did or did not like —- but not so much “you should have written it THIS way.” i watch a member of my Facebook poetry group that goes about posting “corrections” in her comments to poems — and i just sigh when i see that. trying to rewrite other poetry is like trying to re-orchestrate how someone else’s movements when they’re having sex: you are NOT their partner, you are not their muse. if they TAKE your advice, and speed up — that could be the point where that partner would rather they slow down. there is no way to speak from outside to a poet on what he should or should not be writing. other than correcting typos or spelling, it is no ones place. i suppose some people like to invite therapists into their bedrooms to coach them on sex ….. but i always thought that was treating passion like it was technique. and that is how i look at the world of writing. you cannot fake earnest delivery. my two cents — sometimes socialization is more important and we make concessions. i get that. i would rather die poor and unknown myself — lol …. but that’s the stubborn irish in me coming out 🙂

    • Eileen,

      You have me laughing out loud.
      I have printed this comment out and am going to take it to the poetry workshop on Saturday!!

      Although, in the middle of my laughter, I recognise the serious point you are making. Writing, in particular poetry, is about passion for me. It is not about technique, although learning the techniques can help in expressing that passion – just like in the bedroom I guess 🙂

      But I am not about to invite anyone into my bedroom as an advisor!!! 🙂


      • 🙂 ….. be careful! you cross those lines and next thing you know wind up with a sex-coach …..lol. you can tell i’m pretty much passionate on a non-interference stand, and in fact working constructive modes of criticism was part of rocking-road’s mission. that there had to be some sort of constructive feedback that didn’t involve rewriting a work –but more like pointing out areas that the writer might want to look at. we had some that emphatically stated that they were taught in school to never use certain words in poetry! no “and” or “but” … etc. where often conjunction-use contributes to meter and serves greater purpose. i have read much from writers that pare all down, and it’s not enjoyable — because you can’t write in that manner unless you are very very skilled. it just becomes this flash of images with no direction. point is, those thinking “filler words” are of the devil — were busy trying to rewrite pieces and in the process making something that had music in it, turn into a clanging mess of discordant crap. lol ….. and sincerely calling that how to make a writing “better.” it is what i learned from that grouping and propensities to cling to technique over content …. that had me responding so completely on the one side of the fence here. you sort of can’t let that go — can’t let ideologies cross the line or becomes like pulling on the stray thread of a sweater; it all unravels and you’re back at square one. of course, truly depends on skill-levels of the writer. advice from someone with less skill-level — is pointless. you will find yourself having to explain to them every “why” of this or that word of yours, because they are too ignorant to understand its use and context. now, for something like —- oh, myself i might rush and fall back on too many ambiguous pronouns. so pointing that out to me, could be helpful. or you can’t really go wrong with inserting more colorful or unusual adjectives/adverbs. other than that, often my work has a thread above and beyond the general context, in which the placement of the words is very necessary, and prohibits tampering. i gave up sending letters to the editor of our paper — because in the ones they’ve printed, have SO rewritten my words that they are no longer mine. and it offends me, then — to have my name publicly listed as writing something that is so far from my actual voice. and often then an aberration from my actual point. eh …. i drone on, and apologies for that ! you know you do what feels right and to your heart …. any workshop of which you are a part-of, David— is better with your presence than without. of that, i am sure. 🙂

      • Ah Eileen,

        I share your distaste for those who would apply hard and fast rules to poetry. The only rule is that there are no rules!!!

        Nonetheless I have some fairly trenchant opinions on poetry. It was Emily Dickinson who said –
        “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were
        taken off I know that is poetry.”

        I do appreciate poetry which touches me in some emotional way. not that it has to be dark or deep – if it makes me smile or laugh that works just as well for me.

        And all poetry is about rhythm. I believe it is written to be read out loud. I read all my poems out loud to myself before I publish them. although that does mean they are written for the rhythm of my own voice.

        I read your poetry and it often touches me in some way. So Bah Humbug! to those who would alter it for the sake of technique.

        Having said that there are certain people – David Tait is one of them. He is a very, very talented poet. he has the priceless ability to be able to see very quickly where I might be able to improve a poem. but he never expects me just to accept what he says. nonetheless I have some poems which have been improved radically by input from him and others.

        I have never got involved in workshops on the web because I don’t know enough about the poets involved or their poetry to know how much value I could put on their input. Even within the Leeds writers circle there are those who I listen to and those I do not!!!

        You keep writing and I will keep reading 🙂

        And thank you for that final comment


  7. I, too, am very weak when it comes to my “babies.” My heart is on my sleeve and I am ready to defend them to the death! (Or at least gather them up and hide.)

  8. I spend my working life setting myself up to be shot at, and after 12 years it hasn’t got much easier! I don’t mind other people commenting on my poems and making suggestions – as long as they’re poets. I’m always thrilled when you, or Ina, or John, or Christine, or someone else I can trust and whose opionon really matters, takes the time to read my work carefully and thoughtfully enough to see where it could be improved for their own reading pleasure.
    The hard part of my work is having my writing dissected by marketing people, for whom words and writing are simply means to an end. The worst part is when the amendment is plain wrong: incorrect apostrophes put in after the fact by an unseen and ignorant hand, or someone inserting ‘with’ after ‘meeting’. It’s made less painful by the fact that I’m never writing on a subject I actually care about (although that’s a whole other can of worms in itself!) so I can distance myself from it a bit. But being a writer means even stuff I’m doing at someone else’s behest is still to some degree a ‘baby’, and I must confess I’m growing weary of the whole business. Thank you for sharing this poem of yours – it shows the kind of courage we all need in this crazy poetic occupation of ours. Hope the workshop goes well 🙂

    • Thank you Nick for this obvously heart-felt respone.

      I have never written for a living and have enormous respect for those, like yourself and Ina, who can do that.

      I have, of course, had to write as part of making a living but that is different.
      Almost a necessary evil.
      Paperwork was the bane of my life when I was nursing – there were those who could nurse and those who could do paperwork and rarely were the two the same. I have read some wonderfully creative nursing reports designed more to protect the nurse’s back than to reflect accurately on the patient’s care!!!
      Yet in the tick-box culture which nursing became we were more often judged on the quality of our paperwork than the quality of our care – part of the problem I think with nursing as it is today!!

      Ah, but I have gone off on a separate topic altogether. I have a tendency to do that!! Suffice to say that I am happy to be retired and writing poetry for my own pleasure 🙂
      And like you, I am happy to listen to the words of other poets when they feedback on my work – although I don’t always have to agree 🙂

      You take good care of yourself my friend.


  9. Hey thank you Nick 🙂 I appreciate that compliment very much.

    I find it interesting if people tell me things should be different, like the editor of my American publisher, they had a list of changes, and only some of them were improvements in my view, as sometimes the whole meaning of a poem depends on a comma. So I told them what the reason was I did it that way. But it is also good to learn and to realize why you want something the way you want it. Learning how your own ideas can be put in words, is as much fun as writing I suppose 🙂 I find it difficult to know whether or not I use the right words, so I am always very glad to get suggestions!

    • ps David, I do think taking care of the mentally ill is a very important job.and not always that pleasant. From my husband I know how much paperwork it takes, and I agree it is a shame. Waste of time! 🙂

      ps 2 I would love to know what your workshop looked like.
      🙂 Arohanui

      • Thank you Ina,

        Mental Health nursing is all about the interaction between the nurse and the patient in my opinion – that interaction is compromised if we are for ever filling in pieces of paper. Some of it is necessary – I know that. But too much of it is just, as you say, a waste of time!!!
        I could go on……………..Perhaps best not!!!

        It is technically feasible to do online workshops. But I suspect the difficulties might prove too much. Having said that……………But don’t hold your breath 🙂


  10. Hi David,

    The phone rang right in the middle of my reply the other day. *shakes head* it wasn’t meant to be, but I’ve managed to finally find a space with no interuptions. 🙂

    I enjoyed the humour of this poem, but alas maybe because it’s too close to home the more serious sentiments of writing and having your work scrutinised keeps bubbling to the surface.

    I have never looked at myself as a poet to be taken seriously in the sense of the wider poetic world, largely because for me it has always been a therapy and ultimately an art form.
    I’m sure you’re aware of my opinion when it comes to academic wank… 🙂
    For myself it gets in the way. I think one can loose their way easily. After a while the poems become a technical exercise not an expression.
    For myself poetry is ultimately just that, expression. Of love, hate, opinions or observation. It isn’t meant to be a novel and I think too often we treat poetry as if we’re trying for the New York best sellers list.
    For myself once a piece of work is finished it is finished. I would never take a painting once complete and have it scrunitised and crisitsed and then go home and paint it again with the reccomendations in mind.

    So too with a poem. Once it is finsihed it is done. The only concessions I make are spelling and its format.
    That said on its way to completetion like a painting it may under go many levels of editing and transfomations until I believe I written my best.

    Like a painting we can’t like every image we come across or feel a connection with every artist but it doesn’t make the art produced necessarily invalid.

    So too with a poem. We may not resonate with its words or feel it very pretty or well executed, but the expression is valid for its writer.

    I disagree with writing for an audience. One’s words in poetry shouldn’t be styled to please the reader.

    That said I do think there is a place for criticism and if we aquire an ear to listen without being defensive we can learn how to improve for next time. 🙂
    I’ve learnt a lot by reading others and cultivating a discipline of writing. Certainly doing my archives it has shown me how much I’ve improved over the years.

    Then again maybe I’m too much of artist. I never understood others needs to tamper with a persons vision and “make it better”.

    Differnet things for different people. 🙂 I think if you aren’t wanting to have a poem scrutinised then don’t. Let it be what it is. 🙂
    Maybe the critical eye they need is yours and some time, not the cutting blade of anothers.

    Sorry for going on so long. *sheepish grin*
    Your poem certainly touched a nerve! 😀

    and K’OTC

    • Hi Tikarma,

      I agree with everything you say. We both come from exactly the same place as regards our writing 🙂

      Some further thoughts then in no particular order – just as they occur to me –

      I believe that a poem is finished when I publish it – whether on here, or in a magazine, or in a book.
      I may well write further poems on the same subject but they will be different poems.
      I go back and re-read the poems in my first book. I could not write those poems in the same way today as I did then – I haved moved on as a person and a poet. but those poems are absolutely valid!! Some of them will re-appear in my new book – they will be exactly as first written.

      I only ever take poems to workshops or to the Leeds writers Circle when I specifically want feedback because I am not happy with a poem as it stands and I want a different eye. (My ‘seasons in the city’ poem is a good example – what I had in the first instance was a good concept but a crap poem. But I knew that so I wanted some other opinions)

      And also when I want feedback I will look to those who’s opinions I trust. Those who are also poets and have the best interests of my writing at heart.
      I do have to be aware at the Writers Circle that some of the people there are novelists – their opinions will be coloured by their desire to tell a story and a poem is not a story (even if it may tell one) 🙂

      As for academic wank!!! I think it was Jamie who first introduced me to that phrase. his views, your views and my views are exactly in the same place 🙂

      I do. and always will, write for myself!! – early mornings, cup of tea, cigarettes, a soft light, a notebook and my pen = Contentment 🙂

      I will finish on the topic of reading – I learn most from reading. Reading poetry. Working out what works for me. Making my own decisions on what represents good poetry to me!! I have some fairly trenchant views which I don’t expect every one else to agree with. for me a poem has to touch me in some emotional way. but I firmly believe it is not possible to write good poetry without reading good poetry.

      I shall be continuing to read your poetry because it so often moves me.

      And K’sOTC 🙂

      • You are very kind David. 🙂 All I can say now is I agree. 🙂

        There is a sort of comfort in that. 🙂

        And yes it was Jamie who coined that fabulous term. 🙂

        Your early mornings writing sound lovely. 🙂 I will take that image of contentment with me into the rest of this week. It’s rather motivating actually. 🙂

        and K’sOTC 🙂

      • *Smile*

        There is a comfort in that indeed 🙂

        Most of my poems emerge in that early morning 🙂
        And if I type a poem up one day I always re-read it during that early morning – seeing it with fresh eyes if you like. 🙂

        You take good care of yourself

        and K’sOTC 🙂

  11. Hi David,

    I went to the poetry evening yesterday, and read the poems,out loud 🙂 without the scare, Must be because you kept your fingers cross lol. it was great fun to do. I can imagine workshops are a big success, but this was a one time affair. In spite of the dense mist, the room was crowded!

    Can’t you do an online workshop? I bet you would be successful.
    So far, what I have learned by reading, writing and thinking: Poetry can always be better, as the maker of the mirror is behind the glass and can’t see what the reflections are (metaphor!) So feedback and different views from others can help to improve? And as they are only suggestions, there is no pressure. The result is the goal of the poem, the process is the joy.

    As writers, we rearange words and thoughts so they appeal to us and make the truth we want for ourselves. But only if we allow ourselves to be a reader, we know what we have written. I think 🙂

    I think good poems are always art, and only that counts in a published (online or paper) poem. ? Just some reflections, I hope I make sense 🙂 English btw is a much more beautiful language to write poems in than Dutch.

    Arohanui 🙂

    • ps 🙂 I am trying to see in your dvd how a poem should be read, taking pauses and such. I know nothing 🙂

    • Hi Ina,

      I am delighted that your poetry evening went well for you.
      Hopefully there will be more in the future.

      I shall ponder on the possibilities for online workshops 🙂 But don’t hold your breath 🙂

      You do make an important point I think in “but only if we allow ourselves to be a reader”. It is difficult to take an objective stance on our own poetry but it is certainly well worth trying to make the effort. I will always read my poems out loud to myself – I need to know that they work that way. If it is uncomfortable to read then I don’t think it works on the page either. 🙂

      And yes “good poems are always art” 🙂


      • 🙂 If I do that, reading in front of a mirror (How? If I read, I don’t see the mirror? (we only have one in the showerroom) my husband will have me put in a home for the Poetically Challenged 🙂 I also have a rather soft voice. But it is not as if I will be doing it very often 🙂

        I am holding my breath 🙂

      • *Laughing Out Loud*

        Thank you Ina


  12. I love this poem! I think every writer and artist can relate to this. I have just recently put my writing and art out for viewing and I was so afraid. I am now realizing that there are no real critics in the artistic world. Having said that I learn so much from reading the poetry and viewing the art of others. Nice to find your blog David.


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