Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Of Poetry and Research

I submitted a paper to the 2009 AWP Pedagogy Forum. I figure it's as good a way as any to break into writing and presenting in English/Writing in addition to librarianship. I hadn't actually planned on going to AWP in Chicago next year, but I figure that one, my little brother now lives just outside of Chicago, and it would be a nice way to combine business and a visit; two, if I am going to take my career as a writer and teacher seriously, attending only librarian conferences will be severely limiting; and three (and perhaps most important), it provides the impetus I need to work on combining my interests in writing and librarianship into something with a decent agenda to it. Creating a confluence between these two interests helps me out tenure-wise if I can start getting published and presenting, and it also makes me a more attractive candidate once I decide to apply to adjunct some English classes.

Other than cost in terms of time and money, there's really no downside, and this is exactly the sort of thing that manages t reflect my myriad interests in such a way as to benefit me both as a writer and librarian. (That's the hope, at least.)

The title of the paper I submitted (which is short, at one page per the requirements) is "Poets Rewriting History: Researching for the Authentic Persona Poem." I think it's a nice introduction and activity demonstrating how research skills and information literacy are important even (and perhaps especially) to creative writers. There seems to be this idea among students that because poetry is "creative" it should all be done sans research. I would argue that in order to have a compelling, authentic persona poem written about a character from the past or a particular locale, about the past, etc., you have to do research. I'm not talking a full-on dissertation style research habit, but if you decide you want to write about Persephone, you'll want to read not only the myth that features her most prominently, but also how her character has been treated by other authors, both ancient and contemporary. This broadens your view not only of the character, but of literature's treatment of her character, and may open the window for you to find a gap, or what you consider a misunderstanding, and give you as the writer a foothold to essentially rewrite history - or legend, or myth - to reflect how you think it would read if told from a differently conceived perspective.

It's not enough to be creative. Writing is rewarding, but it's also hard work if you want to do it right. Katy Yocom, discussing her research for her novel Tiger Woman, mentioned at Spalding University's last residency that she felt she could hardly write convincingly about India if she had never been there, and so she got a grant that allowed her to do some traveling. It's the same for writing from the perspective of a particular locale, time period, or historical figure: to be authentic, you have to do some research. Not only because the critics will pick you apart for anachronisms and things you get wrong - the primary motivation should be that you want it to be the best writing you can produce. Given that so many libraries have literary criticism, historical databases, biographical dictionaries and even special collections containing manuscripts and letters (as well as photos and more), there's no reason that writers should not take advantage of such treasure troves.

All of which is the long way around of saying that I've found a nice way to combine my love of librarianship and research with my love for writing and teaching. So if you know someone on the AWP Pedagogy Panel, let them know you're intrigued to see my paper, and that you hope it's one of the papers that makes it into The Best of AWP The Pedagogy Papers 2009 *wink*


Infosciphi said...

Colleen, you have been an inspiration to me of late, in that you have a good grasp on managing the various aspects of yourself in such a way that they complement and enhance each other. Whether you see it that way or not is besides the point. :-D I've been writing more recently because of the emotional changes I've been going through, which is typical for me. I only write when I'm messed up or really inspired to be thoughtful.

I've been thinking a lot about the persona writing in relation to songs. One of my favorite bands writes lots of songs like this and I have to seperate the autobiographical ones from those written from some other perspective. Seeing them talk about their writing process has helped me to better define those lines for myself.

Right now I'm just trying to tap into the rich store of personal experience that I have in such a way as to get at some of what is quintessential to "me".

Anyway, I'm proud of you! :-)

Colleen said...

@infosciphi - well, it's good to know *something* good comes out of my hectic self - am glad to make it look like I'm good at managing all of those aspects *grin*. I'm also happy to hear that you're writing, whatever the reason. Thanks for the kind words - maybe we should share some work? :)