Thursday, August 11, 2016

Discomforted on Purpose

94º feels like 108º ~ excessive heat warnings are getting old ~ from the window looking outward all is glorious and greenwelcoming, but one crack of the door reveals a mesh of swampy air waiting to envelope any body that steps over the threshold

On Sunday, I'll be up way before the birds to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight as the first leg of three that will take me to Hudson, NY. I'll be spending a week at The Home School (formerly The Ashbery Home School), where I will be a student again. Not only will I be a student again, but also, I'll be a student of poets whose work is quite a distance from my own on the poetic spectrum. I'll be presenting poems in workshop with nine other students, and our workshop will have five different leaders, some of whom have already sent assignments. My group's workshop leaders are: Douglas Kearney, Myung Mi Kim, Dorothea Lasky, Harryette Mullen, and Geoffrey G. O'Brien.

Let's pause while I experience yet another wave of anxiety.

Why the anxiety? Anxiety because I'm stepping way outside my poetic nest. It's been 13 years since I've been a formal student, and I've enjoyed some great successes in establishing my own voice and publishing both individual poems and full-length collections. I am proud of all that I've accomplished; however, I also believe that learning from those whose aesthetics differ from our own can be crucial in our development. I believe that diversity is good in eco-systems, in communities, and in my own reading and writing.

Lest anyone worry; my anxiety is no surprise to me, and I am embracing it. In terms of my poetic heredity, I came up on the confessional poets and the nature poets of the 1970s - 1990s. Then, while I was earning my MFA at the University of Arkansas, I was steeped in Southern narrative poetry, and the influence of Miller Williams and Davis McCombs can still be seen in my work, even as I've stretched into the lyric as much as the narrative.

I chose to apply for The Home School precisely because it is different from what I've experienced in the past. Yes, I've read poems and books by the workshop leaders and the other faculty; and yes, I've admired them. However, I haven't tried to emulate them or to purposefully learn from their work.  I also chose The Home School for its emphasis on hybrid works and collaborations between poetry and any number of art forms. Already, one assignment has me writing in collaboration with film, and I'll be taking daily drawing lessons while I'm in New York.

If you are still wondering why I'm anxious about this trip, I'll say this. For me, it doesn't matter how many successes I've had in the past or that I'm an assistant professor "in real life." To be a student in workshop means to dare to expose your new work to others, sometimes strangers, and to risk receiving their judgment rather than their constructive criticism. I'm glad I'll have the chance to experience this sensation again, as I probably need to remember exactly how much discomfort my students feel on the first day of workshop, if only to empathize with them more fully.

Here's to embracing the discomfort!


robin towne said...

What a great adventure! I envy your courage to explore.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Robin!

Erin Lynn Marsh said...

I am excited for you!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Erin!