The workshops in Week Seven at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center will help students focus on overcoming fears and being open to experimentation with their work.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Kim Todd will lead the week’s workshops. Kasdorf will serve as poet-in-residence, and Todd will serve as prose writer-in-residence.
Kasdorf’s advanced poetry workshop is called “Fearless Revision,” and Todd’s workshop is called “Nonfiction Laboratory.” Both authors will give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Kasdorf is the author of three poetry collections, her most recent being Poetry in America. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship in 2009. She currently teaches English and women’s studies courses at Penn State University and directs its creative writing program.
She first taught at the Writers’ Center in 2001, Kasdorf said. This will be her fourth time teaching at Chautauqua, and her first time teaching an advanced workshop.
Kasdorf said she wanted to focus on revision because she’s found in her teaching career that it’s one of the hardest ideas for students to grasp.
“The choices that you make in revision are very complex, and particular to each poem,” Kasdorf said. “Although you can teach principles, you can’t tell someone how to ‘fix’ a poem.”
She said people can become very attached to the first draft of their poem and the feelings they had when they were initially composing it, which is what makes revision so tough.
“The feeling of revision can be threatening to that sense of commitment to the first draft and the energy around the first draft,” Kasdorf said. “So people are afraid to go back in — they’re afraid that somehow they’ll kill the life of that initial creative impulse.”
Kasdorf said she’ll ask her students to bring in at least three poems to workshop, and then they’ll look at some “unconventional approaches” to revision while they work with examples from master poets.
Approaching revision as rewriting and not as editing is an important distinction to consider, Kasdorf said. She sees revision “not as fixing, but somehow returning to the creative place of composition.”
That idea is one her students can take with them once the workshop ends, Kasdorf said. She said she’s looking forward to returning to Chautauqua to work with people “who are both open and committed to excellence” and seeing growth in their work.
“It’s always just been a real pleasure to work with these people,” Kasdorf said.
Todd is a Writers’ Center veteran as well: she last taught at Chautauqua in 2013. She is the author of Sparrow and Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota.
Todd said the secret to her workshop is in its title.
“The goal of the ‘Nonfiction Laboratory,’ as the title suggests, is experimentation,” Todd said. “So we’re going to be looking at a lot of hybrid essay forms — places where essays are combining with poetry, or someone might be working with an essay as well as visual art.”
She and her students will read examples of experimental nonfiction and write short pieces to “generate new ideas and spur creativity,” Todd said.
Todd said she hopes her workshop will help her students get past being “very serious and stressed and anxious about their writing.” It’s an issue that can often plague writers of essays, she said.
“They want to do it ‘right,’ and have it be ‘good,’ both of which are great goals,” Todd said. “But sometimes they lose the joy and the playfulness of writing. And certainly, as a reader, I enjoy writing that is joyful and playful, whether it was for the writer or not.”
Todd said it’s much more fun to play and experiment with form, instead of getting wrapped up in making an essay conform to traditional literary standards. She said she hopes her students take that idea away with them after the workshop.
“I do feel like it’s a more creative place than sitting hunched down and thinking that it has to be perfect and knowing the way it ‘needs’ to be,” Todd said. “This is just opening up possibilities and ways of writing we’ve never thought of.”
Kasdorf and Todd will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of Alumni Hall during Week Seven. Todd’s Brown Bag, called “Bad Animals: Predators in the Forest and on the Page,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Thursday. Kasdorf’s Brown Bag, called “Documentary Poetry: Making Sense of the News,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday. The times are different this week to accommodate Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle presentations from William Heyen and Susan Southard.
Heyen will also lead two Special Poetry Appreciation Sessions at the Writers’ Center during the week. Heyen is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including the 2010 CLSC selection A Poetics of Hiroshima. He returns to the CLSC this year with The Candle: Poems of Our 20th Century Holocausts.
The first of Heyen’s sessions, titled, “Tell Me a Story,” will be at 3:30 p.m. Monday. The second, “Beauty and Atrocity,” will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Heyen said he’s still finishing his “mental notes” and plans for his sessions, but he does have a few ideas in mind.
“I’ll ramble, quote some poems, try to intensify, have some gifts for the attendees,” Heyen said.