By Raina Lauren Fields, General Editor
About a month ago, my fiancé – who is also a poet in a MFA program – sat down to edit and write poems.
Yes, we’re that kind of couple. We’re long distance if you consider 3.5 hours away a long distance. We even video chat every night. When I was sick a couple of weeks ago, instead of recommending me chicken noodle soup, he read me three poems from Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth. I tried to pay attention to the poem about Larry Bird tinkering with watches, but was coughing too loudly to hear the whole thing.
That Saturday, my fiancé was writing a poem in which he was imagining cows on Golgotha. These cows were eating the vinegar-soaked sponges that were presented to Jesus and licking His feet in thirst or worship or adoration.
After he was done writing, he asked me to read his poem.
We share poems all the time. I get poems embedded in and attached to emails – some new and untitled and others polished and close to done.
Instead of reading this poem like all the others, slowly digesting them until I was able to question its weaknesses, until I was able to understand it, I put on my “workshop hat” and quickly got to work.
I approached this poem like I had something to prove – like I had to prove to my professor that I actually read the poem in advance was prepared for class. Not like in workshop, I find any problem to point out (Read: “You changed tenses, here. Was that needed?” “You didn’t use punctuation in the poem, but there’s a period at the end of this line.” Whatever. Don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve done it too.)
I questioned the logic, the chronology, the conceit, the change in location, even the Gospel passages and the version of the Bible he was using – all this on a poem that was written and presented minutes before.
After I was done arguing for changes in the poem, my fiancé nodded his head and got quiet. Maybe I said something wrong?
After a few quiet awkward minutes, I asked him what was up.
He replied, “I just wrote it five minutes ago. It’s like my newborn. You’re supposed to look at it and say how cute it is and then move away from the stroller.”
I laughed, but I thought about it. My fiancé is the one person that I can show my rawest, unfinished, flawed poetry to. He understands a new poem’s potential without judging its faults so harshly.
Surely, there are ugly babies in the world. But that’s not just something you tell a set of glowing, newly minted parents. You smile and nod and pinch cheeks and press your face close and blubber in your baby voice “WAT A QT!”
That’s not to say that I’m advocating false praise. To me, talking with your partner about creative work with no valid argument (“Oh I liked it!” or “Great!”) is like faking an orgasm.
This all makes me question when it is appropriate to workshop a poem. In its earliest stages, a poem needs time to breathe and develop, to find its purpose and voice. This all takes time.
Your relationship can be the place to play “workshop.” What’s wrong with being honest about a piece of creative writing’s potential? But give the piece some time. Wait a little while. Either that or maybe it’s best to save your fantasies for something more thrilling like “playing doctor.”