In the final week of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, workshops will take a step back and focus on revision.
This week’s poet-in-residence, Neil Shepard, will teach “Vision and Re-Vision: Seeing Into the Heart of a Poem.” Lenore Myka, prose writer-in-residence, will lead a class on “Re-Envisioning Revision: A Fresh Approach to Book-Length Projects.” Both writers will give public readings of their work at 3:30 p.m. Sun., Aug. 19, in the Hall of Philosophy.
Shepard is the author of multiple poetry collections, including Vermont Exit Ramps and How It Is: Selected Poems. He was previously a poet-in-residence in 2016.
His multifaceted career as a writer, teacher and literary magazine editor of Green Mountains Review is one of the sources of inspiration for his workshop.
“I naturally wear two hats — one as poet, the other as critic — and both of those characters constantly think of how to improve poems,” he said, “whether (of) my own or other poets whom I read or teach.”
Additionally, Shepard realized that poets who have been on the grounds for a few weeks during the season may be looking for a dedicated time to focus intensively on one or two poems.
“Too often, revision seems like a cosmetic process, repairing a few surface features,” he said. “But ‘revision’ means ‘re-seeing’ — a full reconsideration of the style and semantics of the poem.”
Through a variety of strategies, Shepard’s workshop will discuss syntax, audience, images and tropes, with an aim at mastering what Shepard calls the art of “deep revision.”
“As always, I hope (to) mix seriousness of purpose — in writing and revising poems — with conviviality and literary hijinks around the workshop table,” he said. “And I hope to use plenty of examples from other well-known poets’ published poems … to encourage our Chautauqua participants toward the hard but satisfying work of revision.”
Myka’s workshop strikes a similar note, but will focus on prose writing.
Myka is the author of King of the Gypsies: Stories, a finalist for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize. Myka has been recognized by the likes of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Best American Short Stories.
“My workshop is focused on revision of work, which is something people talk a lot about, but don’t actually spend much time, at least in a classroom, doing,” she said. “Traditionally, in workshops we spend a lot of time talking about early drafts and (how) we can make them better, but we’re kind of left in the dark when it comes to revision.”
Myka’s approach to revision is centered around the idea of “pressure points,” which are individual scenes or “energetic” places in the material of interest during revision. After identifying these pressure points, students may explore devices such as narrative arc, imagery, plot and character, and look at how those are working in the scene and how they can be employed.
She hopes this will break down the “mystery behind revision” and help students feel less overwhelmed by the process.
Myka said this “practical step-by-step” approach will also help students focus on two or three big aspects of their manuscript they want to improve moving forward. She wants every student to leave with a list, of sorts, of a few items to tackle in the next stages of their work’s life.
Both writers will give Brown Bags this week. Shepard will deliver his at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Myka will give her lecture at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, both at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.