Monday, January 17, 2005

A Day in the Life of a Low-Res MFA Student (1.4)

Saturday, 08 Jan 2005, 1:30 p.m.
CHARD DeNIORD & JANE MEAD, 2 Ways of Reading the Same Poem

AFTER A WEEK OF SEEING perfectly polished poems presented in the faculty lectures, it was interesting to see what would happen when faculty members examined a not-so-polished piece. After experiencing the different ways faculty members had of leading workshops – experiencing their different shticks, it would only follow that they might have differing opinions about what worked - and about what needed to be repaired - in a work in progress. And this is precisely what happened in Chard deNiord and Jane Mead’s presentation, “Two Ways of Reading the Same Poem.”

What made the discussion all the more interesting was that it took place in epistolary fashion, which meant that we got to see the progression of their divergent viewpoints converge over the course of 5 or 6 letters toward a middle ground. The poem on the table was the student, R____ Montgomery’s “Elsewhere Someone the Color of Jesus.” Chard gave his take first.

The lack of definite placement in the poem – “Elsewhere,” “If this is Iowa or Illinois” – bothered Chard. He also disapproved of the repetition of “Of course” in lines 3 and 4. He wanted to see more definition in the “something” that kept bringing the subject of the poem “back to himself.” Chard attributed these issues to a weakness in writing.

Jane Mead, on the other hand, saw these as deliberate devices. The “Elsewhere” amplified the sense of lostness and alienation in her opinion. She liked the “Of course” and felt that it contributed to the poem’s tone. She seemed to accept the poem on its own terms, for its contract, while Chard seemed to have never accepted the poem’s contract at all.
Over the course of their correspondence, Chard’s opinion moved more toward Jane’s, but the verdict was that the poem was falling short of its potential because the poet’s intent was unclear.

“See what horrors can come of carelessness!” Chard said and they went on to discuss a poem which, with carefulness, achieved what this poem failed.

To demonstrate how the student poet could have more successfully used ambiguity, Chard and Jane discussed Robert Frost’s “The Fear.” Like “Elsewhere Someone the Color of Jesus,” Frost’s poem begins in the darkness with a mysterious man. But the difference between the work of a master and that of an apprentice, Chard and Jane agreed, was that the Frost’s poem provided a payoff, a revelation that transformed the mystery/ambiguity into awareness.

This was a very insightful illustration on the consequences of unclear intention. Also, it showed how – even with two pair of skilled eyes – there can be such differing interpretations of the same poem.

They closed with some parting advice about workshopping a poem: When revising a poem, one should never feel like he is just ‘following instructions.’ Only make a change if 1) you understand why you are making the change and 2) it is something that you want to do.

1 comment:

Collin said...

Loved reading your MFA adventures. Further proof I am not ready for this kind of thing. It sounds interesting AND incredibly tedious and some of the people were pissing me off (see how descriptive you are!). I look forward to more reports.