I walked into my first Poetry workshop as a Freshman in Intro to Creative Writing with 13 copies of my poem and sweaty palms, choking on my own breath as I tried to prepare for the criticism coming. In high school, especially coming from a small Catholic high school in rural Saint Marys, PA, poetry was marginalized. My “creative writing” classes were basically myself and five other semi-interested students. Maybe two of us would go on to major in the art, and one of us to make a living doing it. Needless to say, I was very unprepared.
However, Dr. Feinstein and my other classmates made workshop something I grew to look forward to and yearn for. Workshop style is rather different than writing a three page short story and getting a grade back two weeks later. We all bring in copies of our poems or stories, take turns reading them aloud, and have to sit back quietly while others discuss our work. Only once Feinstein gives you the gentle head nod and “okay,” are you allowed to go in and defend your work if necessary, or merely add to the comments given by your peers. There is this understanding in workshop that nothing is personal—we are criticizing your work, not you. It’s more than just “put a comma in line five” or “cut the last stanza.” It’s about delving into your work and making sure it’s authentic, tangible, real, and memorable. You are able to be inspired by not only other students’ work, but by the examples that Feinstein gives and the influences he can bring to the table. Workshop is the time to bring in your absolute worst piece and see that transform into your best. It’s liberating, constructive, challenging, and oh so worth it.
It sounds cliché and hyperbolic to say that I wouldn’t be the poet I am today without Dr. Feinstein and his poetry workshops, but it’s true. Through workshops, I have fallen in love with the art of revision. I know that a piece will never be fully “finished,” but workshops can bring so much clarity to a poem and make it feel huge, big, and powerful. Getting a Creative Writing degree at Lycoming is more than just reading influential modern and contemporary poets or writing a fifteen page research paper: it’s about discovering who you are as a writer and what contributions you can make to the art. It’s part of figuring out who you are.