How To Run A Poetry Workshop

Here is a general guideline to simply and easily running your own poetry workshop. All that means, is getting together with some writers you admire/respect and getting/giving constructive criticism on each others work.

1. Bring a poem

2. Print it out so each person has a copy

3. Take turns reading your poem out load. Read slow and confidently.

4. First the author reads it aloud.

5. Then one other person in the workshop reads it out loud (usually, a woman reads a man’s poem or vice versa) This way there are two distinct voices reading the same piece aloud.

6. Each person in the workshop makes notes/notations on the print out poem passed to them that was just read.

7 The notations should mention everything you like about the poem. There is always something good to say about someone’s work. Always. Let them know what you appreciate.

8. After that, the notes should mention everything you don’t like about the poem and why with a focus on saying, “what didn’t work and how it can be resolved or refined to become successful”

For instance: typos, jumbled words, unclear imagery, weak words, unintentional confusion …

9. Each person in the work shop takes turns reading their notes about your work/poem/story out loud.

Take this opportunity to mark up your work for later revision.

10. when everyone has critiqued it, you are able to offer some explanation of your work, but really that should be unnecessary. The object is to use their notes for your benefits. You already know what you know. You want to use the experience to strengthen your work, not rationalize its flaws.

11. Then you all move on to the next poem and repeat steps 1-10 for the next poem and the ones after that.

12. Afterwards, collect the notes on your poem from the group for your own benefit.

I found the workshop to he highly effective. Very enjoyable. It was my first writing group meet up/work shop for poetry and I have to say it was very enjoyable in a way that I hadn’t considered.

We did ours in a neighborhood bar, at a regular table with people around us. No one even seemed to notice what was going on. Certainly you can do a workshop in any public space, including your own home.

Of course, this could easily be done for short stories. Give it a try.

Good luck. Hit me up if you have questions. Let me know your experiences with these in the past.

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7 Replies to “How To Run A Poetry Workshop”

  1. This is a topic of academic interest for me, so I hope you won’t mind my engaging you in some discussion from a classroom or community workshop perspective. I know that you are specifically talking about a group of writerfriends coming together and not strangers, so this isn’t the same. But I’m still curious about your opinions.

    Firstly, I have to say you have described “The Workshop” very well.

    This is a rough outline of how most workshops work. The variations usually have to do with when participants receive the poems (some weeks before, some at the moment). There are other types of workshops – revision workshops or generative workshops, etc., but this is “THE Workshop” and The pedagogy for creative writing teachers (though it is not my pedagogy, but I’ve used it).

    There are some (like Carol Bly) who feel The Workshop leads to underdeveloped writing. But there are many scholars on creative writing and the workshop (Patrick Bizzaro, Wendy Bishop, Stephanie Vanderslice) who believe it is still a good model, though it has some issues.

    One of the issues that people have started to discuss is whether or not The Workshop is a tool that empowers writers. One huge critique, for example, is that the writer is asked to stay silent during the critiquing of her own work. (Most of the workshops I’ve been in asked us to stay silent after as well.)

    This could actually work against a writer, especially depending upon her suggestibility or confidence in her own ideas. Traditional power roles can be reinforced. Traditionally marginalized students may feel further marginalized. Especially when the problem with the poem is not the poem but the audience. Especially when the problem is a lack of cultural understanding.

    I can say that I have had numerous content suggestions (always from men) about poems throughout my workshop days and they were all crap. I also have people from the north here try to take my Spanglish away. Sometimes people want things to sound like them or match their values or narratives, so their “suggestions” tend to leave the realm of literary fixes and crash into author intent. And then there is often an attempt at appropriation.

    So I guess what I’m wondering is if an audience of workshop participants can really stand for a broader audience? Or does a group stay together (when the school workshops are over) because they already have an appreciation for the specific styles of writing that others in the group are doing? Isn’t this how schools of poetry swim?

    Geez. Sorry. Like I said, this is one of my “things.” I do like workshops for some things and some times. I definitely like ones between friends who run in the same literary crowd.

    1. I don’t know if I like them or not. I only did the one. Just once. This was just an example for the complete novice about how NYC college professors who I ran into at a bar ran theirs.

      I gained a lot from it, because, I think they found me novel … I’m a construction worker and never went to college and my poem was about being 15 and getting a 16 year old girl pregnant and killing a dear with my car and scraping the guts off with a shovel … I think it’s things they wanted to do so bad! There was an audible shriek during the poem when I read it. A shriek. That was great.

      I think I got lucky. I don’t think they knew how to say negative things to me. Maybe they thought I’d kill them. I don’t know.

      They were motherfuckers to each other.

      1. Yeah, they can be really nasty sometimes. Actually, nastiness is the rule.

        I like it when I get together with other poets I trust (maybe 3 of us) who are not nasty. I feel like there is a lot to gain from others about your work, if you can find the “others” that work for you. Sometimes, that’s in a workshop. Some workshops really are a lot of great fun and help.

        You also bring up another good point about participants and audience. A shriek is awesome! Rock on.

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