Power of the Pen Poetry Plays: Orientation Video Marvin Bell

Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues
in Poetry and Plays Optional Orientation Inspiration Video: Marvin Bell. We are very proud to bring you the perspectives
of authors from around the world, and trust that you will find their perspectives valuable. Because some of our contributing authors are
nonnative speakers of English, we suggest that you turn on video captions. You can turn on captions by clicking the “cc”
button at the bottom right of the video. Glossary of terms on Orientation. During our class videos you may hear our poets
and playwrights use terms that are new to you. We have created a list of key terms and definitions
that you can refer to at any point during our video lectures. This list is available on the videos and readings
class page where you can read it or download it as a PDF. If you would like to find and review these
class terms, you can stop this video, go back to the videos and readings class page and
download the pdf. There you can play this video and each of
the following class videos. If you have any questions about these terms,
we encourage you to ask your teaching team in the weekly class discussions. [Marvin Bell on Creating Poems in a Collaborative
Space] Marvin Bell is the author of numerous collections
including Things We Dreamt We Died for, Probable Volume of Dreams, Stars which See, Stars Which
Do Not See, and most recently Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems. His many awards include American Academy of
Arts and Letters Award in Literature, Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships,
the National Book Award finalist, the Los Angeles Times Poetry Award Finalist, and the
Lamont Poetry Selection from the Academy of American poets. He taught for forty years at the University
of Iowa Writers Workshop. I’m Marvin Bell and I’ve been asked to talk
about poetry workshops. The usual Method in college writing programs
is to produce worksheets of student poems prior to the meeting and people are supposed
to read and indeed re-read these poems and then they come to class and they discuss the
poems, sometimes they give written remarks to each other afterwards. Usually one has the student read the poem,
if he or she doesn’t want to read it then someone else will. And then the discussion starts. The person who wrote the poem is supposed
to keep quiet unless asked a question. Or perhaps afterwards asked if he or she would
like to make a comment. That’s the way it runs, but what makes a good
workshop, that is another matter. I met a high school teacher once from Eastern
Washington, who used to teach creative writing once a year to high school students and when
they would arrive at the classroom for the first class, she would be standing on the
desk, and she would be outrageously dressed. She’d be wearing a sneaker on one foot and
a spiked heel on another. She would have on crazy jewelry and a big
scarf around her neck and one glove and you know she just looked ridiculous and garish
colors, all kinds of acoutrements that didn’t fit with each other. And of course the students would sit down
and start to giggle. And she’d wait till they were all in the room
and she’d say okay, “Take out a piece of paper, I want you to write down on the piece of paper
1 thing but only 1 thing that you like about my outfit.” And after they would do that, and she’d say,
“And now I want you to write down some way in which you think my outfit can be improved.”
And of course you can see what she was doing, she was teaching them how to be a good colleague
in a poetry workshop. The idea is to find something you like first
or at least something in the poem that you think is the best part of the poem. There’s always a part that is better than
the others right, there’s always a part that is interesting and suggests further writing
or whatever. Do that first and then when you criticize,
try to take up just one thing at a time and if possible suggest ways to go out changing
it if you think it should be changed. Now a private group of friends who meets for
regular poetry workshops has special problems I think. One is that friends depend on their
friends to be the way they are all the time. Not to change much, not to surprise them much. Not to suddenly write poetry that is nothing
like the poetry they used to write but in fact one needs to agree at the outset of such
a group, at the forming of such a group, that you’re going to welcome surprise, encourage
surprise. That it is going to be good if people come
in with poems that are written in ways or about things that were never expected and
you won’t then reflexibly dislike the poem. Or not be able to see it for what it is. So it’s really good to make an overt agreement
about this sort of thing. [Thirty-Two Statements on Writing Poetry]
What else is there to say? I was asked to write a book about poetry one
time and I was of course much to lazy to do it, so instead I made a list, I made a list
of 32 statements about writing poetry. And I’m going to just run through them very
quickly here. 1 is every poet is an experimentalist. Art is essentially experimental. Now there’s all kinds of art on all kinds
of kinds of levels and it seeks its own level like water. But if you really into the asthetics of it,
you’re an experimentalist. Ezra Pound in ABCs of Reading said make
it new. Number 2: Learning to write is a simple process
that’s why if I wrote a book about poetry it would be quite thin. You read something and then you write something. And then you read something else and then
you write something else. But here’s the trick, you show in your writing
what you have read. I don’t mean that you refer to it, you simply
let if influence you. The computer programmer’s version of this
is garbage in garbage out. You have to find yourself good favorites and
you have to find good models. Number 3: There is no one way to write and
there is no right way to write. Don’t just say that but believe it. And there is no right way to write. Number 4: The Good Stuff and the bad stuff
are all part of the stuff. There is no good stuff without bad stuff. Nobody writes nothing but good poems all the
time and indeed it’s impossible to sit down to write a good poem. You have all the pressure of all the great
stuff you’ve read and the tradition and so forth. So you sit down to get into the process and
there’ll be good stuff and there’ll be bad stuff. [5:]Here’s my mantra, learn the rules, break the
rules, make up new rules, break the new rules. It’s good to make discoveries in poetry and
to be loyal to those that began to emerge in the poem as you write it. Number 6: You do not learn from work like
yours, as much as you learn from work unlike yours. A student of mine named Jordan Smith was talking
to me one day, I asked him, “Jordan, what would you like to hear me talk about when
I am on this panel soon about influence?” And he said, “Well” He was a very quiet thoughtful,
intelligent fellow. Jordan said, “Well, I’ve learned that when
I hate a book of poetry but I don’t know why, a year later I will love that book.” You don’t learn from work like yours as much
as work unlike yours. Number 7: Originality is actually a new amalgam
of influences. As what point do we stop changing? Okay we say this is the way I write. Um many poets do in fact invest in an image
of themselves and try to you know make it ever so better, but you know I think we should
feel free to change dramatically as a writer. Number 8: Try to write poems that at least
1 person in the room will hate. That’s an important one. Try to write poems at least one person in
the room will hate because that means you are doing something different. Number 9: The I in the poem is not you, but
someone who knows a lot about you. Yeats talked about the poet, the person who
writes the poem, the mask because when the poet is writing he is wearing the mask of
the poet. And then there is the persona, when the poet
actually speaks in the voice of the character. And you can tell he or she is doing that. So the I in the poem is not really you but
someone who knows a lot about you. Number 10: Autobiography rots. The life ends the vision remains. That is probably the most controversial item
on this list but I am going to stand by it. Number 11: A poem listens to itself as it
goes. That is the single note of modernism. That we not only know, we know we know, and
we show that we know what we know, so that the poem that listens to itself as it goes
it wants to ideally the poem is unparaphasable we say.That is you have to read the poem and
go through all the steps that the poem goes through in order to experience the poem. A poem is about what is happening as you read
it. The writer is lucky because he or she gets
that thrill right away and very intensely. But that is what a poem really is. At the highest level. Its about what is happening as you read it. Number 12 I guess I am on. It’s not what one begins with that matters
it is the quality of attention paid to it there after. You really need nothing more to write poems
then bits of string and thread and some dust from under the bed. Number 13: Language is subjective and relative
but it also overlaps, get on with it. Theoriticians don’t write a lot of good poetry
because they are forever surprised by the fact that language is relative and subjective. Well that is baby knowledge, we knew that
when the first time our mother said no in a different way. Number 14: Every free verse writer must reinvent
free verse. I don’t think of free verse as a form or unmetered
poetry I think of it as a method for finding new forms. And so every free verse writer really needs
to reinvent free verse. Number 15: Prose is prose because of what
it includes. But poetry is poetry because of what it leaves
out. Number 16: A short poem need not be small. Number 17: Rhyme and meter too can be experimental. There is a wonderful story, by the way, in which
a young poet goes to William Carlos Williams and hands him a sonnet and asks him what he
thinks of it. And Williams hands the sonnet back to the
poet and says “In this mode, perfection is basic.” In other words, you have to be able to write
a perfect sonnet before you can write a good one. The interesting part of that story is the
poet is Alan Ginsberg. And of course he goes on and writes “Howl”,
nothing like a sonnet, and Williams writes the introduction to it. Number 20: At heart, poetic beauty is tautological. It defines its terms. That’s partly what I mean by saying a poem
is about what is happening as you read it. Number 21: The penalty for education is self-consciousness
but it is too late for ignorance. Number 22: What they say there are no words
for, that is what poetry is for. Poetry uses words to go beyond words. 23: One does not learn by having a teacher
do the work. Number 24: A dictionary is beautiful, for
some poets, it’s enough. Sure, go ahead and use 50 cent words. Number 25: Writing poetry is its own reward
and needs no certification. Poetry like water, seeks its own level. Number 26: A finished poem is also the draft
of a later poem. Number 27: A poet sees the similarities, excuse
me, the differences between his or her poems but a reader sees the similarities. One might keep that in mind when making up
a book manuscript. Number 28: Poetry is a manifestation of more
important things. On the one hand its poetry, it can be really
important it can save your life. On the other hand, its just poetry. Number 29: Viewed in perspective Parnassus,
where you want to go, is a very short mountain. Number 30: A good workshop continues to signal
we’re all in this together, teacher too. All the years I’ve taught, when I gave an
assignment, I wrote the assignment too. Teacher has to do the assignment too. Number 31 is the Depression-era jangle that
could be about writing poetry. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do
without. And number 32: Art is a way of life not a
career. There is a character in a Kingsley novel who
says, “There aren’t many benefits to sanity but one of them is being able to tell what’s

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