Wednesday, August 26, 2009

reading list

When I did my own MFA back in the dark ages (late 80s), the workshop was a bare-boned affair: 8 or 9 students, a resident poet, and sometimes a bottle of wine. There was kind of a hermetic overall effect – one was sealed in this room (sometimes a classroom, sometimes the professor's office – they had really big offices at Cornell back in the day) with your own poems & those of your colleagues, the professor & the ghostly reputation of her or his work. I'm not sure that was a good effect, ultimately.

We were all reading a great deal of poetry on our own, of course, and for a semester or two some of us set up a reading group to discuss a contemporary poet every couple of weeks. But there was no sense of a shared vocabulary among the members of the workshop, so that one writer's obsession with Mary Oliver fell on deaf ears among those of us who hadn't read a word of Oliver's, while the marks in my poetry of my own growing absorption in Jab├Ęs and Michael Palmer struck many of my colleagues as something akin to Spicer's Martian transmissions.

When I started doing workshops at Our Fair University not all that many years ago, I think the overall ethos of creative writing programs had shifted away from a pure emphasis on student poems, & I was happy to go along with that shift & assign "outside" reading. At any rate, here's this semester's reading list – by no means everything worthy I've read recently, but a semi-random 8 books I've read this past year & found compelling (or even interestingly arguable):
Jenny Boully, The Body
Peter Cole, Things on Which I've Stumbled
C. S. Giscombe, Prairie Style
K. Lorraine Graham, Terminal Humming
Joseph Lease, Broken World
Cole Swensen, Ours
John Taggart, There Are Birds
Elizabeth Willis, Meteoric Flowers

4 comments:

Liz said...

Thanks for posting! Now you don't have to get an annoying email from me asking for a copy of the syllabus, and I get another chunk of engaging reading. As soon as finish Watchword, from last year's list.

Su said...

I wish everyone I knew teaching creative writing workshops would post their reading lists. One of the things I liked about my MFA workshops was the introduction to the works of writers I may have overlooked.

I know I haven't read the Taggart, Willis, or Giscombe books on your list. Thanks for posting.

BTW, have we ever talked about Boully's The Body? If not, we should. I'd consider breaking my new 'don't drive to Boca to drink' rule to discuss (with a drink, of course, because I am nothing if not contradictory).

Brian S said...

The first time as an MFA student that I had outside reading introduced into a workshop was when a youngish Davis McCombs came in as a visiting writer to Arkansas and brought in handouts. When I got to Stanford, W. S. DiPiero had a reading list, but neither Boland nor Fields did, but I liked it so much that I've brought in outside works to my undergraduate workshops (at times to their dismay, I think).

zimdog said...

As a self-declared non-reader of poetry, I'm not saying I'm proud of what I just declared.

Knowing what you do about me and my poetry (if it is that), which two of these might be more for me than the others?