Writers Block (8) by Jonno Witts, under a Creative Commons licence
For my sins, I worked as a journalist for ten years. A literary critic mostly. Despite a decade-plus under my belt, I still felt trepidation when assigned a certain type of book. I could handle head-scratching epics by postmodern novelists, string-theory primers and, just as tough in their way, celebrity memoirs. No, what gave me pause was – poetry.
Not because I didn’t love poetry – I do! – but I wasn’t sure what tack to take. I was writing for a newspaper, so to what degree should one discuss how technical aspects work? Should I instead sum up general themes? Sprinkle in a few choice quotes and leave it at that? It didn’t feel satisfying, especially when considered in the light of the work of the poetry critics I most admired: T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky.
The three writers I’ve just mentioned are of course better known as poets. It is in their essays, however, that one charts the evolution of their thought; perhaps without the opportunity to clarify their opinions on their craft and other practitioners, they would have taken longer to find their way to writing the poems we all know so well.
With that in mind, the SPL set up its workshop, the Criticism Playpen. We believe it’s no accident that great poets make great critics too. We don’t see the arts of essay-writing and poetry as separate – they run into and inform each other. Which is why we recommend poets, and readers of poetry, consider joining our next Criticism Playpen session on 16 April at Golden Hare Bookshop in Edinburgh.
With the help of critic and poet David Coates and poet JL Williams, we get to grips with the business of writing poetry criticism. In our first session we looked at various pieces of criticism to work out why some pieces work and others don’t, and in this session we’ll be bringing in our own reviews and discussing the process and the results, as well as publishing options. If you missed the first session but want to attend this session, that’s fine! Just email email@example.com and she will give you all the info you need to come prepared on the 16th of April. Above all, the event will be fun – how often do you get the chance to criticise the critics?
16 April 2015, 6:30pm
Golden Hare Books, 68 Saint Stephen Street, Edinburgh