Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I knew these were coming...negative influences.

Among my most negative influences are people who should have been aiding me, teachers primarily. Some of them probably thought they were aiding me but that doesn't help any. For example, part of my tendency to keep my own poetry to myself can be traced to an English teacher I had in high school. I very shyly shared with her a few of my poems, stressing that I was just sharing them to read and did not want them printed (as I knew she edited some stuff for the school and I did not want her to confuse them with submissions, although I had not followed submission procedure).

She printed them, of course. I had wanted her opinions/feedback so that I could strengthen the poems; I knew they weren't perfect and needed revision, even then. But I wanted more input than mine. She gave me no feedback other than that they were great, and she printed them in the school journal (under my name, but still, without my permission). And because she was a teacher and you did not want to make teachers angry as they controlled your grade (and she was a very subjective grader, at times), I did not dare to speak out.

I'm amazed I signed up for workshops in college, with that start. Also sorry, since that is where I had the workshop/class with the man who managed to take my poetry away for some years. I had written a poem on the admittedly difficult subject of date rape, and it was indirect. He read it and decided it was about incest (one of his main bugaboo themes, sigh). I was mortified, especially since he was sitting there in front of my classmates and fellow college students talking about 'the author' writing about incest experiences. I said that wasn't what I had intended, but instead of helping me to revise that impression out of the poem, he told me that my opinion didn't matter, it was what the reader could take away. (Well, yes, but I wanted to remove what let the reader get THAT impression!) He did manage to give me enough info that I figured out how to rework it.

I had to turn in a portfolio for a grade. I did not want to give the man any more of my poetry to mess with me, but I had to. So I started writing very surrealist stuff which he loved (and I did not; I thought it was absolute drivel; but I knew he would like it).

Did you know if you do that intensely for a couple weeks, you can forget how to tap your own voice, especially if it's more work than spewing surreal drivel? Especially if you're afraid to tap your voice because of how it's been heard in the past?

I did eventually begin writing poetry in my own voice again, but I have never again written at the prolific level I achieved in college before that event. Some of that is available time...but far from all of it, I know.

3 comments:

kat said...

yes, most of my negative influences were teachers unfortunately (many of my postive ones were also teachers tho!) it's rough when someone who is supposed to be guiding you, takes advantage and squashes your individuality. after art school, it took a few years before i went back to regular art-making.

Living Part Deux said...

Oh, there is so much emotion here. I'm so sorry your voice was stolen and muted. A well-known critic (I heard him on PBS the other day and can't remember his name) has recounted in a book just published how many movies he panned and how many performance artists he hated that went on to great success. Criticism is SO often subjective, but our hearts hear it so differently. Here's hoping your voice own voice is freed and those critical voices are put to sleep once and for all!

kathryn said...

Teachers have a great trust that they should live up to with much care. I was majorly derailed by a teacher in my h.s. junior year. I was fortunate enough with my poetry, though, that my teachers encouraged me to enter a national poetry contest. I ended up being a finalist and attended a workshop. Didn't win, but learned a lot.

When working with creative writing, teachers need to learn and use as much empathy and diplomacy as they can. The college teacher was particularly destructive and I felt sadness for what you experienced. I send hopeful energy that you will find a reconnection with that part of yourself.