Thursday, March 24, 2005

Pottery or Poetry?

Re: the question of productivity, it seems we poets are all over the board on this: from those who write 3 or 4 poems a year, to those who write a poem or more a day, and everywhere in between (I'm 3-5 poems a month, maybe). In The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty discusses this in a chapter about writer’s block, by referring to an anecdotal study of pottery students (emphasis on anecdotal):

“ . . . a ceramics teacher [who] divided his class into two groups. One group was graded solely on the quality of its best work; the other, solely on the quantity of work (fifty pounds of pots rated an A, forty a B, and so on). Students in the quality group needed only produce one perfect pot to get an A. Ironically, the best pots were produced in the quantity group.” pg 95 (italics mine)

Hmmmm . . . what did they do with all the pounds of crappy pots? And can the same be said for writing poems? What do you think? More meat for the grinder, grist for the mill, yeast for the loaf, stock for the pot, seed for the feeder . . . Stop me please.

19 comments:

David Vincenti said...
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David Vincenti said...
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David Vincenti said...

...variables for the equation?

So here's another place where science and art parallel. I haven't read the Flaherty book, but I suspect the root cause in this anecdote is that the students who produced 43 crappy pottery pounds found their way to good and different designs or methods or ideas while working through the crap.

Likewise, the scientists who make the really big discoveries have (usually) had many failures, some colossal, prior to hitting on one true, new thing.

Or maybe skiing is a better analogy: you fall down many times, but the last time you get up, you make it all the way down the mountain.

David Koehn said...

My uncle is a potter and bronze caster. During his stint at the University of Stuttgart I went to his house and we hung out in his pottery studio in his basement drinking a case of Stuttgarter Schloss beer.

He told me clay is just orgainized dirt and in way so are we. The goal of a good potter is to "pull" a good pot. He said a good potter at the right moment at the right time becomes one with the universe and the pot is pulled out of this synchronicity at that moment.

He was a commercial potter for years. He literally had a roadside shack where he threw and fired and sold dishes and platters and bowls to anyone who would shell out a couple of bucks.

As he reflected on that experience he said that usually you just show up and you have no idea if one of these moments of synchronicity will happen. And almost every time it does not. But you pull and fire what you have. But, he said, if you keep showing up the moments do occur. Then, he said, you end up screwing up the pull and have to go back at at it again anyways.

He said eventually the synchronicity of universe, wheel, and self (technique) align with preparation and you don't screw up and there you are. The pot kiln fired as perfect as it can be...barely but notably different then the thousands of pots that have come before it.

That pot is probably notably different than the thousand pots that will come after it as well.

Peter said...

David & David: Fun and fascinating.

Pulling pots vs pulling poems: no wonder only one T (or E!) separates them.
hehehe

Charles said...

As someone who generates a quantity of poetry with little initial regard to quality, I admit that I have endless stores of poems written that I have no intention of pursuing further.

Some are exercises. Some are ways in which I've asked myself questions about poetry (such as, "Why do people write brief, spare lyrics? Why do people write sestinas?"). Some are what I consider to be "studies"—part of a larger group of poems that riff on a theme, a voice, a narrative, or other unifying device.

If I only wrote 3 poems a year I would hang up my poetry hat.

Anne said...

I generally feel that a poem a week is an acceptable level of productivity for myself, though that may come from too many years of CW classes and writers' groups that demanded I turn in a poem a week or face the wrath of someone-or-other.

But really, what I mean by that is one decent poem a week -- not necessarily great, or publishable, or whatever, but something that I feel is worth revising and working on. At minimum, something salvageable. And most weeks, that means at least one or two false starts or sucky poems I'll never do anything with.

It's like running. You're never going to finish a marathon (and by marathon I mean a Really Good Poem) if you don't practice running (writing) on a regular basis for a while. You're not likely to rip out a perfect guitar solo if you haven't touched your instrument (I mean the guitar, silly) in a year.

I think there are ways to keep the poetry muscles warmed up that don't necessarily involve writing actual poems, though, or at least don't only involve that. Just as a musician may, at some points in her development, spend more time practicing scales and arpeggios than playing concert-quality Bach, poets can keep their poetry muscles strengthened & stretched by reading, journaling, doing critical work, doing silly exercises and word games, and other things.

I'm willing to bet that someone who writes 3 or 4 poems a year, if they're good poems, turns their mind to poetry on a lot more than 3 or 4 annual occasions. And maybe they revise more than I do. Three-or-four-a-year poet, if a poem isn't working, probably keeps working on it and revising it; poem-a-day dude probably just says "eh, whatever" and writes a new one.

Okay, now I'm rambling, and I know nothing about pottery except that I really like the hand-thrown mug a friend gave me once. I do know that, at my advanced age (hah!), I have little to no patience with the whole "writer's block" thing. I say, say "fuck you" to writer's block and go write anyway if that's what you want to do.

Roger Mitchell once said to me that anyone can be a poet, but you have to want it badly enough, and most people don't want it enough. So if you want to write, write. If you want to make pots, make pots. And I bet someone who really, really wants to make pots all day will probably end up making enough pots for a solid A+.

Peter said...

Interesting comments Charles & Anne. Anne, I must confess that I was "touching my instrument" as I read yours. :)

Suzanne said...

I dunno, Peter. I've learned to accept that I write in cycles. The one year I tried to write out of cycle, I ended up writing a lot of garbage. I have very long quiet periods and then I have very prolific creative periods. I like to think I'm always writing even without pen & paper. Great conversation.

S

Anne said...

Peter, it's pervs like you that made me clarify that I meant the guitar. *grin*

Radish King said...

The key to mastery lies in practice, just as Anne said. You have to practice diligently to attain new levels of competence and while doing so you also have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau ( or, writing crap.) You have to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere because that's when you make the most progress. You have to practice for the sake of practice itself. This is practically a religion with me. I didn't learn to play Mozart by practicing Mozart. I learned by practicing scales. Every. Single. Day. I apply this to my writing life as well.

Suzanne said...
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Suzanne said...

Rebecca! At first I wanted to vehemently disagree with you, but then I realized that I did write every single day, reams and reams of stuff: book reviews, feature stories, news stories, even covered those g.d. board of ed meetings and then some (moonlighting in PR work). I guess you're write (uh, right)*lol* Because I wrote for a living until very recently I've always kept the poetry in the 'compelled to write it' category. Since I don't write for a living anymore...I'm going to start writing crappy poems on a daily basis and emailing them to you. (laughing maniacally) xo

Radish King said...

I'd welcome a Suzanne poem of any stripe, always. You know where I live, girlie.
xor

Suzanne said...

Peter, is that Rebecca a sweet talker, or what? ;-)

jenni said...

Good conversation. I'm a quantity writer, always have been. I write almost every day. But I only end up with 2-3 poems per month that I revise and develop further than the first few drafts. I think method is very individual and personal. Jack is prolific--he's written over 300 pages of poetry in the last 9 months. But he doesn't revise, if a poem doesn't work he just writes a new one. I don't write as much, I average about 20 poems per month and of those I revise and develop maybe three beyond the first few drafts.

BTW I like your new pic. That's really cute. Happy easter to you and Dean. I hope the bunny brings you both much sweetness!

Peter said...

S & R: you are both sweet talkers.

The Midnight Disease has been an interesting read. I'll post more on it, later, maybe. But I just got the new Paglia book, and am diving into that now.

Peter said...

PS: and I agree with Rebecca: it's all about writing PRACTICE.

Charles said...

Peter--this is a great topic; it's so wonderful to read everyone's thoughts on it. Thanks for spurring the discussion! :)