And Then a Plank in Reason Broke: Poetry, Uncertainty, and the Creative Process

In place of the Studio on Sunday, March  4, we’ll have the following workshop.
And Then a Plank in Reason Broke: Poetry, Uncertainty, and the Creative Process:  A writing workshop cultivating curiosity, receptivity, and flexibility.
10 – 5, SFZC City Center, Conference Center
Uncertainty can feel like a problematic state, something we have to endure until we’ve managed to figure everything out and write it all down. Maybe we think we alone are beset by the sometimes persuasive doubt and fear that can attend any stage of the writing process.

But what if we reconsider uncertainty as an exhilarating ground of possibility and generativity? What if feeling lost is a signpost that can encourage us we’re where we need to be? What is the role of accident, and chance?

The hallmark trait of the poet, for John Keats, is the capacity for “being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” The uncertainty Keats speaks of is not a blandly passive “what-ev-er,” but rather an actively curious posture of being, an empathic flexibility, opening up space for receptivity, discovery, and innovation.

How do we stay in this uncomfortable position of not knowing long enough to allow new work to take shape? What the painter Robert Motherwell said of painting is perhaps true of tolerating uncertainty as well: it cannot be taught, but it can be learned. And it can be practiced.

We will write poems and explore process issues, paying attention to generative strategies. And we’ll cultivate a practice of keeping a process journal and assembling a commonplace book, a resource for ideas, sparks, and provocations.

Prose writers are also very welcome.

Over the course of the day, we’ll read short passages on the creative process, including excerpts from the journals and letters of John Keats, Edward Munch, Agnes Martin, John Cage, Theodore Roethke, Rainer Maria Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Theodore Roethke, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and others.

Please bring:

  • plenty of fresh paper and a juicy pen or two
  • a piece of your own writing (for discussion, not required)
  • 2-3 examples of anything you have found inspiring/encouraging in your own process (e.g. quotations, objects, images)
Participants are invited to read any or all of the following texts before the workshop, though this is not required:
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates
Mark Epstein, Going to Pieces without Falling Apart
Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Miranda July, It Chooses You

For an additional $25 fee, students can arrange to meet with the instructor for an individual one-hour conference (to be scheduled by instructor and student).Retreat fee:$80; $72 current SFZC members; $64 limited income.Registration: Please call 888.743.9362 or 415.475.9362 to register.

  Remembering Stanley Kunitz  by Jane Hirshfield (includes audio of SK reading Jane’s poem, “Against Certainty”)


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