Last night one of my friends (who is a brilliant academic) asked DP and me to critique her poem. DP and I both have MFAs, this means we came out of a workshop system. We are used to critiquing other people’s work; we are so used to it, in fact, that we do it for a living.
“You need to put more of yourself in there,” we said.
“It doesn’t have to be you personally,” I added. “It’s a poem, you can lie. You just need to make it more concrete.”
“I have no idea how you guys do this shit all the time,” my friend responded. She has a background in philosophy and sociology. For her the abstract is concrete. For me, the abstract makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.
And I’m not sure she understood what we were getting at. The abstract works best when it is intertwined with the personal. The personal is political. Explain this ten different ways. DP and I agreed on the line we liked best, but we liked it in the context of the lived experience not just the words on the page.
And by the end, I think we talked to much. We gave her too much criticism, forgot that she was a beginner in creative writing because she is so advanced in other spheres.
Do you know when to stop?