Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sold Out AWP: Creative Writing and Critical Reading

This afternoon I learned that the 2008 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference meeting in New York City at the end of this month (January 30-February 2) has been sold out, and the AWP reports no more passes will be issued after more than 7,000 attendees already have registered. I am not sure of the complete reasoning behind this decision, but I am positive the AWP will have to amend this policy or face harsh criticism from members, many of whom planned to participate with on-site registration as has always happened in the past. Indeed, a number of those members already have made reservations for transportation and lodging, and I cannot see the AWP turning away those people. Since the conference is less than four weeks away, this issue must be resolved quickly by the AWP.

Obviously, the AWP’s “sold out” designation also indicates the great growth in popularity of the organization and the greater demand for creative writing courses at universities, which many of us as writers and teachers of creative writing can celebrate. On the other hand, I’ve heard some cynics suggest this points to a sellout of aesthetic principles to commercialization, not only by the organization but also by individual creative writing programs whose increased presence often provides economic advantages to English departments, especially in those where enrollment figures might otherwise be declining. This opinion is particularly shared by folks already skeptical about whether writers really can be taught in college classrooms how to produce poems, plays, short stories, or novels.

Due to a scheduling conflict, I had not intended to be present for this year’s conference, which is disappointing because I’d love to return once more to my old hometown and see many familiar faces. However, I have attended a number of the AWP’s annual gatherings over the last two decades, and I have observed the steady growth of these meetings, as well as the increasing popularity of creative writing programs in American universities. Indeed, I have witnessed this firsthand as I helped design and develop my department’s creative writing major and minor options in recent years.

Nevertheless, preparing the syllabi today for my Spring semester creative writing courses that begin next week, I again am reminded of an ongoing controversy repeatedly debated within English departments and with other liberal arts colleagues, or even among some authors. Once more, I consider the question regularly repeated about how effectively the subject of creative writing could be taught to students—or whether it should be taught at all.

For decades this topic has generated much discussion, with a number of articles arguing from different perspectives. Although a definitive answer has never been achieved that satisfactorily resolves the familiar question (“Can creative writing be taught?”), I believe the debate usually has created a healthy conversation and often has led to rewarding results.

One can get an idea about early indications of the lingering doubts concerning teaching creative writing in American universities by examining comments included in The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880, the D.G. Myers study released in 1996. Among his many sources, Myers cites a couple of statements from the 1920s. Adele Bildersee spoke in 1927 about creative writing in the classroom: “the art of writing cannot be taught; it can only be learned.” William Webster Ellsworth remarked in 1929: “writing can not be taught, but a would-be writer can perhaps be helped and inspired.”

Myers even reports that the Iowa Writers Workshop brochure for years introduced itself to students with the following observation: “Though we agree in part with the popular insistence that writing cannot be taught, we exist and proceed on the assumption that talent can be developed.”

In Richard Hugo’s influential collection of essays about poetry and writing, The Triggering Town, published in 1979 as a sharp rise in creative writing programs was just beginning, he opens the first chapter with a brief explanation to his poetry writing students of his approach: “I hope I don’t teach you how to write but how to teach yourself how to write.”

One of my own teachers, Dave Smith, has examined this question as well in his 1985 book, Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry, with an essay titled “Notes on Responsibility and the Teaching of Creative Writing”: “Can creative writing be taught? Writing can be and always has been taught. One may teach both the forms and formulas of literature. One cannot teach how to write masterpieces of great art. Art history, art appreciation, and studio instruction teach a great many valuable things about painting. There has never been a course which could teach even the most talented apprentice to be a Michelangelo. But was Michelangelo self-taught in a void? In writing what is taught is respect for time, history, discipline, struggle, expectation, and accomplishment.”

Elsewhere in the essay Smith continues to discuss the merits of instruction in creative writing: “Creative writing is one of the few formal opportunities in education for self-discovery and self-creation. It leads a student less to right answers than to right questions. It creates more intelligent, informed, and responsible readers by immersing them in the actual process of imaginative exploration and accomplishment.”

Clearly, teaching creative writing does not involve merely making minor movements of words from one place to another or considering an alternative expression during revision, the necessary workshop “nuts and bolts” about which Hugo advised so well. A course in creative writing also should instill more abstract qualities, particularly curiosity about how others have employed words in their literature, as well as a willingness to investigate language intimately. As Smith suggests: “We must teach them that to be a writer is to examine, dramatize, describe, understand, and enter wholly into the world as words.”

Currently, one can find an interesting extensive essay about this issue at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs website. D.W. Fenza’s “Creative Writing & Its Discontents,” written in 2000, chronicles the state of creative writing at university programs since the 1980s, and it explores the development of creative writing programs since the establishment of the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1942. Fenza notes, the AWP was initiated 25 years later in 1967, when a small group of 15 writers representing 13 universities gathered.

Today, there are more than 400 creative writing programs at one level or another in universities across the country, and just about every university includes creative writing courses in its college catalog. Indeed, one now can find all the details about current university programs in creative writing online at the AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs. Surely, the blossoming of creative writing programs throughout the nation helps explain the 7,000 people attending this year’s sold-out AWP conference. (As a born and bred New Yorker, I’m proud to say the attraction of New York City certainly contributes as well.)

Although many universities now have graduate programs in creative writing, one must remember that the vast majority of classes in creative writing at universities are populated mostly by individuals who do not plan to become a published author or to pursue a career as a writer. However, one hopes all will become perceptive and critical lifelong readers of literature, those Smith referenced as “responsible readers.”

I teach creative writing to graduate students; however, most of my classes contain undergraduates. I have been fortunate to have remarkable young people in those undergraduate classes. Some of my students have gone on to careers in the field of writing. I’m particularly pleased to note one recently was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Nevertheless, most often not even half the students in the introductory creative writing classes are English majors or creative writing majors, but instead are taking the course as an enjoyable elective. As Fenza correctly concludes: “undergraduate workshops differ from graduate workshops because their primary goal is not to educate artists but to teach students critical reading skills, the elements of fiction and verse, general persuasive writing skills, and an appreciation of literary works of the present and the past.”

Consequently, I’m reminded as I construct my syllabi that one primary goal for a course in creative writing should be to teach students how to be better readers, to view the works through the eyes of their authors, considering the numerous options chosen or avoided through the process of creation and revision that led to the words on the page in front of them. In fact, I like to consider this as a supplementary goal in my literature classes as well.

Therefore, as I prepare my syllabi for the upcoming semester, and as I read the AWP news suggesting the popularity of creative writing, I am amazed by the stages of growth and intense interest I have seen in this field during the past few decades. In addition, I’m heartened by hopes that the world of literature might be enhanced by a new group of enthusiastically innovative writers. I also am optimistic their works will be embraced by a proliferating crop of intuitive readers. I’d like to believe many of these future writers and readers will have learned their skills in classes of creative writing.

[Important reminder: With the start of January, the Valparaiso Poetry Review Facebook group page has been instituted to allow readers an opportunity to quickly keep up with Valparaiso Poetry Review issue releases and news updates about the journal, as well as those book reviews and topics on contemporary poetry regularly presented here on “One Poet’s Notes.” The VPR Facebook group is global and open to everyone, and I invite all readers of Valparaiso Poetry Review or “One Poet’s Notes” to visit the page, where I request you add your name as a member.]


Tad Richards said...

I've always taught creative writing courses on an undergraduate level, and on that level I always assume that I am not offering an apprenticeship for young writers. I hope my course is a useful starting point for students who do want to enter the writing life, but I understand that most of my students, even the talented ones, won't. So I try to make it another avenue for the study of literature, in which the responses are creative, not analytical.

Debra Di Blasi said...

Yes, creative writing can be taught -- and to everyone -- but not using the standard academic model which enforces strict literary boundaries, many which are no longer culturally relevant and/or lack knowledge of the interconnections in systemic aesthetics. Good visual arts schools* are better adept at teaching across disciplines and genres because they instruct according to each student's innate and highly individual talents, social background and interests, nurturing the most original gifts while dampening those that hinder expression or are culturally irrelevant. Literature can be taught the same way, with instructors directing students rather than dictating to them. As media and technologies shift the culture light years away from the 19th Century, and reading speeds and patterns change, creative writing programs will need to keep abreast of these aesthetic changes in order to produce and intelligent (not just a best-selling) crop of writers for the 21st Century.

*I taught a variety of creative writing courses at Kansas City Art Institute and have an education in both creative writing and visual art.

P.S. Great blog!

profkemp said...

Ed, what astounds me is the huge contingent of AWP-bashers that pays money to show up and complain about how AWP is "The Establishment." I heard so many angry young men-types wandering around and bitching about how dissatisfied they were. So, uh, why come? And if they think AWP and creative writing programs are the spawn of Satan, maybe they should try registering for MLA. ;-))

I'm bummed that so many regulars I'd hoped to see are bailing, many for financial reasons. New York seems way, way too expensive for most of us--even if it is the center of the publishing universe. I'm blowing a month's pay on the hotel room.

Edward Byrne said...

After this post about AWP being sold out and not allowing on-site registration, including my insisting AWP needed to amend its policy, I immediately received a note from one of the AWP officials informing me that he was concerned and informing me they have decided anyone who has made travel or lodging arrangements will quietly be allowed to register if AWP is directly contacted soon.

Also, anyone who is to be a presenter or to participate in the book fair will still be allowed to register. Consequently, I also have heard some book fair organizations may still be registering students willing to work for them. I think the AWP folks are making additional case by case exceptions as well.

Perhaps this will help some readers of "One Poet's Notes." I have been assured the AWP wants to assist members as much as it can, and I applaud any efforts they make to accommodate members. As all the pargraphs past the first one in my entry indicated, I have a longstanding admiration and appreciation for AWP.

However, I still think the AWP should permit on-site registration since barring that process impacts more those without institutional funding and those who were waiting to register because of financial concerns.

Anonymous said...

Apparently they are not helping out with people who already have travel and lodging. One of my students wrote and they told him they could not let him register due to "safety concerns." Also, he volunteered to work and they said they didn't need more volunteers. In short, they offered him nothing.

Edward Byrne said...

I'm disappointed to read this message. The exact comment I had received from an AWP official: "If anyone has already bought travel and/or made hotel arrangements do contact AWP office to be allowed registration."

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