I once took a poetry writing seminar conducted by a prominent American poet based at the time in Colby College. She was already an eminence in the early stages of her career and has achieved Olympian status since. I lunched with her several times outside class and was both flattered and dazzled by her attention.
When it was my turn to share my poems with the group she dealt unsparingly with them. Her critique was withering. I deserved it. I had been a cocky participant in the sessions, perhaps inflated by imagining that she had been receptive to my extracurricular flirtations. My work was undistinguished. For a long time I kept the copies of those poems that she had marked up as relics of my abandoned aspirations to be a poet.
Years later I had a friend who was also a recognized poet with a solid body of published work to his credit. He received multiple fellowships to teach poetry in public school districts around the state. In my town he solicited poems to be considered for inclusion in an anthology of local versifiers. It was calculated vanity press, but also flattering and vivifying for the community.
I worked in advertising at the time but, encouraged by the poet, provided several old stabs of my own at creating a poem. He saw a glimmering of merit in one. What he did has stayed with me.
He proceeded to carve out the poem, such as it was, that lurked in my draft. He published it in his anthology, crediting me as its author. It was much improved. He didn’t add or rephrase anything, just selected the words that should survive and discarded the rest. It was a nurturing and generous act of editing (and of teaching).
I doubt that what I submitted for the anthology was any better than what I had submitted for the seminar. The difference was in how it was dealt with. One treatment took the wind out of my sails; the other one gave me a puff. Both approaches helped me.
[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]