Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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worthless words workshop

During my college summer in London, in 1980, not that long after Ian Curtis had died, a fellow Arkansan student and I went to a poetry group we read about in the weekly "things to do" mag, Time Out. Its name was the Worthless Words Workshop. When we arrived there, a dozen or so fellows were there to sit around a conference table and share poetry. The first man read a poem. It was a very nice poem. When he had finished, the woman who came with me, a casual acquaintance from my home university studying to be a TV reporter, began a poetic critique along the lines of American graduate school English "workshops". A deathly silence ensued. Soon we realized the truth of things. This was to be poetry without judgment, without criticism. We all sat and listened to poems, mostly free verse, across a universe of themes, across a spectrum of "talent". The words themselves were indeed Worthless--what mattered was the experience of the reader and of the listener--the deep sighed "ah" of things. Nobody worried who was "a big dog" in the group, and there was virtually no structure. We transcended race and nationality and gender and even class. We just read poems. We. just. read. poems. I recall a few of the poems still--one used a bicycle as a metaphor for ritualistic worship of God; I can still see him imitating the spokes with his arms and the imagining the bikewheel as his mitre. My fellow Arkansan read a poem which used a sandy beach, bread and cheese to symbolize an erotic event, although I quite frankly did not "get" the image until the appreciative, "nod, nod, wink, wink" comments from the others. We confessed to those there that the English and Irish and Jamaican accents made the poems far more exotic and wonderful to us, while the regulars said the same about our odd southern American accents. We went to a few sessions of this group. I wrote many poems that summer, a few of which I like, many of which I wince to read. I've written hundreds more since, most of which I wince to read. But those unseasonably cool summer evenings in conference rooms that had seen better days seated with people that, in the main, were and are as unknown as I am and will eternally be, those days taught me more about poetry and the life within than a thousand anthologies could. I believe in poetry without judgment, without money, without criticism, and with no more reaction than a polite "this works for me" or, failing that, a silent smile. Don't pass out prizes, don't vote on favorites, don't set up slams, don't pass out mimeographed notes of rejection, don't create laureates. No returns, documentation of the heart and mind provided to all. Worthless words, simply without worth.

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