When I started teaching, my former instructors told me that one of the greatest benefits of being on the other side of the desk was that I could look at my own work with new eyes. At the time, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to view my own writing from an instructor’s standpoint; after all, since I had written it, I was inextricably linked to it as the writer, the student/writer, because writing always teaches me something.
Over the years (FIVE now!), I’ve seen that this advice was legit– as long as I have some distance between myself and the thing I’ve written. In fact, it proved true last night.
After grading paragraphs of fiction and scenes of screenplays, I took a break to think about what poems I would read at next week’s poetry session. The Blot Collective, the group hosting the event, put out a call of sorts: themed sections. The first part of the night will be dedicated to “the city.” The second, “the forest.”
I was thinking of some poems about Chicago from a number of years ago, poems I hadn’t worked on since the poetry class I took with Patrick Hicks.
Shedding pages and random notes, the fat orange binder in which I’d kept all those old poems sat quietly on my office shelf. As I leafed through it, I felt both inspired and a little surprised at the obvious problems in some of the poems. Wonky rhyme schemes, stanzas in odd places… you get the idea. This is pretty common stuff for any writer–those nascent first drafts are always messy. And students learning the craft are students learning the craft.
So of course those errors were to be expected, and with time, any writer would be able to see them. But what has changed the most for me, I think, is that as an instructor/writer, I really understand the value of rewriting, of breaking apart a poem and starting over. I didn’t understand that as a student. So now I can look at my poems, think about what I’d say to the student to help him/her “fix”them, and dive in. And also changed is that I look forward to that kind work now!