April 13, 2007

Who Are The People In Your Workshop?

This is the 3rd semester where I've been in a class that has workshop groups. You learn a lot about people in your group, and a lot about the different perspectives on your writing. Workshops are very helpful. They're also a tad scary at first. You're in a small group where everyone is focused on your writing. It's vulnerability city. A chance for people to be critical of your work.

A good workshop group will challenge your work in order to help it grow. Obviously it will also take the time to highlight what strengths you have. After three semesters of this, I've been in groups with a lot of great people. Every once in a while you get someone who doesn't get the concept. But this semester I've been really blessed that all my poetry groups have done a thorough job of workshopping my poems using a good balance of respect and constructive criticism.

Recently we've been assigned to a specific group. The three other members of my group I think have made the best balance of artists I've had a chance to work with.

In the past I've admittedly been apprehensive about workshop group members who don't say much. At times I've been impatient or even worried that they really did not like what I or others have read. I've also felt like when they've contributed their work it was really good but there was no sharing of their writing experience. Marie has taught me differently. She is a brilliant writer who has also taken the time to show the different stages of her writing process. In our first group her poem was still in an embryotic stage but had a lot of potential. This time around she had a really polished piece that invoked a lot of emotion. I would compare her to a classic poet. Her style is straightforward, simple, but has these great images that stick with you forever. I've learned to be more patient with her silence knowing that when she does share her advice and perspectives are worth the wait.

Just as I've been cautious about more quiet students I also felt intimidated by other grads. I've almost felt like I'm not in their own league. Keith has been this great writing 'teammate' (and his style of advice giving rivals that of any student affairs expert schooled in the ways of challenge and support). Moreover there's a calm wisdom to his advice, something from years of experience by someone who is really dedicated to the craft both by writing and reading poetry. His writing is sensational too. He has this 60's beat poet voice in most of his work that really comes through. And he's a great reader as well. He's also taught me that no artist is perfect when they start the creation process.

If Kurt Cobain was reborn as a college student, minus the ongoing agony, it would be Russ. His writing is a good mix of unique lyrical resonance and abstract deeply cognitive themes. He rounds out the group with an artistic flair that is balls out. He would actually probably use the phrase balls out. He's experience a lot in life, and uses his poetry to write about many facets that everyone goes through. His writing is also the kind of poetry that will push you out of your comfort zones. Really make you think. Really make you try something different. Learn something new.

What do I bring to the group? Good question. I think I'm the outsider but in a good way. I'm the one with the least amount of poetic experience but I feel like I can still contribute a style that is alliterative and entertaining. I'm a classic storyteller finding ways to explore my writing through a medium I would not thing would fit my style. Whereas I can see the three other members getting published in more literary journals and magazines, I'm more of an [adult swim] poet.

What's mot important is that despite feeling like the odd man out in this group, all three of them, different personalities, lifestyles, and histories, are all artists through and through. And they are willing to share their gift of art, and help you with yours. In the future I will try and post some of their poems so you can get a flavor for what they're all about. For now, I thank them for what they have taught me and contributed to my poetic experience.


April 08, 2007

The Next Generation

It's been a while I realize...some spring break plans, some getting sick, yeah, it's been pretty busy.

I was honored last week to give a speech at our chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH). It was pretty cool. This was the first time I spoke for the chapter which is named after our friend Eric Thiede. Despite being sick and coughing every minute, I spoke on something I learned in Challenge Seminar, a class I took in high school. We were once asked to talk about how we honor the scholarships and awards we receive. Being that NRHH is an induction into an honorary organization my speech followed the same path.

A week later, as I've thought more about it, I started thinking of that, coupled with some other conversations I've had with young leaders here at UW Oshkosh.

When I was a student here, I really wanted to leave my mark. I think it was easy to think/do that during my time. The caliber of leader is the same but I think we all felt a heightened sense of achievement within our department. When you're always around those who are successful, I think it's easy to pick a trick or two and achieve some greatness yourself. Nonetheless, I was really concerned with wanting to leave my mark.

Why was that so important to me as a student? Really, my first vault into leadership was more because I wanted to entertain people. As I started to learn the ins and outs, I felt more compelled to seek and measure success through awards, achievements, etc. This in turn pushed my psyche to focus on wanting to achieve an opus.

Again why? I've seen leaders merely want to get their organization or students out of the driveway. And I've seen them struggle with that (again not for lack of trying, but for obstacles which one cannot easily change).

What is that drive to keep us going for that one big achievement when we can sit back and go, ahhhhh. That feels better. Is it immortality? A sense of identity? A sense of accomplishment?

It's around this time that I, along with some NCCs and some other folks here at UW Oshkosh, founded the first French Dip Conference. Really, if you knew the longer version of why and how that conference came to be, you'd find it funny that it is now a process which involves writing and presenting a bid. I'm happy we did French Dip. But the original intent behind French Dip has changed, not for better or worst, but changed nonetheless. New leaders with new visions and perspectives get involved, and find ways to make it fit what their goals are.

If it ceases to exist one day, it would not make me sad for myself, it would not make me sad for the organization of WURHA. It is, what it is. Like most things, there's a cycle to them. There are stronger moments than others, more successful times, etc.

Now is the time of year when new leaders will step up. To them I say, do not look to achieve something grand for your own immortality. Because your time ends like everyone else's...when you move on from this planet. Do not look to achieve something because you can say "ahhhh" and then relax. Because you've then robbed the planet of your talents, and we need to see them again and again. And do not worry about filling someone else's shoes or fixing their mistakes. You should know why you took the time to step up and challenge yourself. So do that, challenge yourself.

Good luck, in this time of transition, to all the folks who are trying to do something. May you experience failure to success with great passion.