Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Nigel Beale

Good post Dan, thanks. I'll check out your essay. Interesting that great, canonical works are usually proclaimed so because of their strangeness, their originality; qualities not exactly teachable as you suggest. Interesting too though that truly original work isn't created by those whose primary intent is to be different, or new. The great creators aren't those who purposefully set out to know all that has gone before, to learn the rules in order to break them. This may be one motivator, but it seems to me overly egotistical, solipsistic, logical.


Well said, sir.


The (suggested) balance within the writing department at the school where I teach creative writing is 60% reading / 40% writing for introductory students, 50%/50% for intermediate, and 40%/60% for advanced (I take these percentages to represent the amount of time and effort a student puts into preparation). Over the course of a semester in my introductory classes we read approximately 500 pages of short fiction and excerpts as well as four full-length novels. The assignments I give are highly structured and designed to complement the readings. I feel that I'm serving the students well in this respect; those who are talented generally appreciate being exposed to new (to them) techniques and approaches and having them situated in a larger context. They're willing to put aside for a semester their lust for self-expression. Those who are duffers are often irritated and annoyed and, I would hope, discouraged from pursuing the practice of literature.

Incertus (Brian)

I just saw the hit via Sitemeter and figured I'd let you know that the poster in question is named William Bradley, not Bradley Isaacson. Just FYI. And thanks for the link.

Jim H.

My best professor in law school once told us that the only way to become a great lawyer was to immerse one's self totally in the law, to the exclusion of everything else. The same, I believe, applies to writers. Anybody can string words together (well, not anybody, but you know what I mean). Many can do it well and apply techniques they've been taught. The best know how to contextualize and that can only be learned by thorough reading.

On the flip side, the burden of tradition is sometimes so great it becomes stifling or even paralyzing. Innovation often comes from applying techniques in unthought-of ways—throwing away everything that has gone before. Of course, with no guidance, it becomes hit-or-miss, rank experimentation easily pooh-poohed by the established guild.

Then there's the old axiom: "Mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal," attributed to T.S. Eliot. How're you gonna' know what to take if you don't know what's what?

Besides, nobody likes a dilettante.

Jim H.

Dave Lull

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest. Chapman borrowed from Seneca; Shakespeare and Webster from Montaigne"--T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. 1922.

From "Philip Massinger":

Finn Harvor

I think the prospect of stealing-minded poets/prose writers/word-smith-thingies is what prevents many writers from posting more of their creative work on the Internet. Of course, Jim's comment is well-taken; the point he's making has to do with the act of creation itself, not the dissemination of it. But -- especially since he has a law background -- maybe he has a few ideas on how genuine writers in an age like ours in which dilettantism has merged with careerism (the careerist being the dilettante who wants to get paid for faking it) can take advantage of the opportunities the Net offers without being flattered by Kleptomaniac Kolleagues.

William Bradley

Obviously, I agree with much of what you've said, but I'm afraid that when you wrote "Learning how to write should indeed be the ultimate goal for students in creative writing, but exactly how one would learn this without the widest possible familiarity with literary history and with the basic principles of literary analysis is not at all apparent to me," I'm afraid you're implying that I've somehow claimed that such a thing is possible. I have not. In fact, I said that the AWP's statement "An expert writer must first become an expert reader" is a self-evident truth. What I took issue with was the suggestion-- implied (I feel) from the language of the guidelines and explicitly stated by the AWP's Executive Director-- that creative writing instructors should try to "rescue" the teaching of literature from our colleagues who do not teach creative writing classes. Essentially, I want my students to have a broad understanding of literature and scholarship, beyond the formalist approach utilized in most creative writing workshops.

Dan Green

Actually, you can count me among those who think creative writing programs ought to "rescue the teaching of literature," although not in fiction or poetry writing workshops per se. Instead, I think creative writing programs ought to incorporate a critical component--literary criticism taught by literary critics (as opposed to the "scholars" who have essentially eviscerated the study of literature in favor of Theory and Cultural Study). The essay to which I linked spells this out in more detail.

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The Art of Disturbance--Available as Pdf and Kindle Ebook
Literary Pragmatism--Available as a Pdf