Breaking Your Poems: an Interview with Poet Lauren Davis
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
We have a great interview with Poet Lauren Davis about her upcoming seminar, Break Your Poem, which promises to offer poets a unique opportunity to explore their work from a fresh perspective. Lauren's seminar encourages writers to step back and take a critical look at their poems through aggressive editing techniques. While these methods might not always lead to the final draft, they provide poets with valuable tools to enhance their craft.
Lauren's class begins with warm-up exercises and gradually introduces more intensive approaches. By the end, participants will have a new editing toolkit and the ability to integrate various outcomes into their work.
Lauren's course is ideal for poets seeking to uncover hidden layers in their writing by embracing resistance and risk as paths to creative breakthroughs.
WW: Hi, Lauren. Your new seminar, Break Your Poem, suggests a transformative approach to poetry. What inspired the title and the philosophy behind this workshop?
LD: During a workshop with the poet Bill Carty, he used what I considered, at the time, very nonsensical approaches to writing and editing. I experienced a lot of resistance, but I had paid for the class, and I had driven a long way to be there. So I did as he suggested. I didn't know it at the time, but these exercises were loosening something up in my craft. They were breaking open my approach to language. Once I realized, later, what these approaches had done for my writing, I naturally wanted more of this type of play, experimentation, and deconstruction.
WW: In the course description, you mention "aggressive deconstruction and editing techniques." Can you provide a brief example or insight into what this might look like for a student in the class?
LD: Double-space the poem. Add new lines between each of the original lines. As you probably imagine, I don't start with an exercise like this. We warm up first with less aggressive techniques.
WW: Your varied and rich experience in poetry and writing is evident from your background. How have your personal experiences as a writer influenced the techniques and teachings in this workshop?
LD: I always thought writing was work. And it is. But I repeatedly found myself getting stuck either with some manifestation of writer's block or stagnation. I realized that if I didn't challenge myself and try every once in a while to do things differently, I'm going to be a one-trick pony or, quite simply, bitter. I say this because I have been bitter. I know intimately what that feels like, so I naturally want to show my students a way out of that if and when they arrive there.
WW: Resistance and risk-taking seem to be central themes of your seminar. Can you share a moment in your own writing journey where confronting resistance or taking a risk led to a significant breakthrough?
LD: Once, I took a workshop with Mark Doty, one of my idols. I don't remember the exact instructions, but we were to bring in a poem that we worked on and finished. We all arrived with our pretty, printed poems. Then he told us to add another stanza. I felt anger in that moment. Actual anger at this poet I adore. I thought, There is no more poem here. You've asked me to bring in something complete and it is complete. It was such a simple exercise that he gave us. And yet my emotional response was so strong. There was nothing to lose, though. I could always nix the extra stanza later on. Anyhow, I did as he asked. And, surprise surprise, the poem opened up to a new level.
WW: How do you envision students integrating the lessons from "Break Your Poem" into their future work? What kind of impact do you hope to see on their writing after completing the workshop?
LD: Poems-in-progress will always speak to us, but there's a language barrier. I hope students will learn to sit with a poem and listen to it. If the poem needs more, we approach it with the tools needed to translate what it is asking to communicate.
WW: Given the diverse range of your publications and the accolades you've received, how does "Break Your Poem" capture or distill some of the most pivotal lessons you've learned over the course of your writing career?
Instructor Lauren Davis is the author of the forthcoming short story collection The Milk of Dead Mothers (YesYes Books), the poetry collection Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press) and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize short-listed When I Drowned (Kelsay Books), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press) and The Missing Ones (Winter Texts). She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars. She is a former Editor in Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier, and she is the winner of the Landing Zone Magazine’s Flash Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in numerous literary publications and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Poet Lore, Ibbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. Davis lives with her husband and two black cats on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community.