Last week I experienced the greatest amount of nervousness I’ve had for any workshop in the entirety of my education. This fall, the second year poets are taking Thesis Development—a class designed to help us produce a full length manuscript by the end of the fall semester, so that we can spend next semester refining it, and produce a book that will immediately get picked up for publication the moment our diplomas are in our hands. (Obviously.)
For the present though, Thesis Development is divided into two major turn in dates, the first date is the first fifteen pages, and the second is the next 25 pages. Each week, we work through two poets’ manuscripts and discuss their goals, their successes, possible paths towards perfection, and more. In an effort to get feedback as soon as possible, I decided that I should go first. (Obviously.) I was relatively sure I had written enough material over the summer to meet the page requirement.
But the page requirement was the least of my concerns. I’ve decided to work with a more experimental form, writing long interconnected prose blocks, fully justified. I want it to feel inescapable and immersive, but I also want people to want to read it. You can see my dilemma. In the week leading up to turning in the manuscript, I scrambled to refine what I’d written, to make my words clear and clean, and to ring with the kind of music that I feel is essential to my poetics. I think I reached a point in my editing that made me feel comfortable enough to actually show up to class and not embarrassed to show my cohort what I’d made.
Nevertheless, I was nervous. I was worried that the form would be too difficult to work with, be completely unreadable, or something along the lines of my cohort finally telling me I’d gone too far, and they couldn’t help me or my poetry. I was horribly wrong. My cohort and professor Tony Trigilio provided such incredible feedback that I feel invigorated about the future of this project. In the week since, I’ve been writing pages and pages daily, and I have so many ideas about the multiple directions I can go. That’s not to say that all reviews were glowing. In fact, this may have been the most critical workshop I’ve had. But every person in that room was supportive and sincerely wanted me to succeed, the same as I do for every single one of them.
It’s strange to think that a year ago, we were all just meeting each other and getting to know each other’s work. But after two semesters of reading and critiquing our work, we have grown together and as poets. My fears for workshop were reasonable, because I want to bring my best work to my friends. But my fears for workshop were also unfounded, because I was bringing my work to talented poets and friends.