W.H. Auden On Teaching Creative Writing, the Joys Of Constraints & the Transformative Power of Collaboration …*

W.H. Auden On Teaching Creative Writing, the Joys Of Constraints & the Transformative Power of Collaboration ...* | rethinked.org

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center via The Paris Review

 

W.H. Auden, whose birthday is today, had some marvelous views on the impossibility of teaching creative writing, the productive joys of constraints and the transformative power of collaboration, all topics dear to our hearts here at rethinked * I particularly love his views on teaching creative writing by exploring a wide range of other disciplines– creativity, after all, is often found in the in-between, cross-over spaces. Also, apprenticeships!

 TEACHING CREATIVE WRITING TRANSDISCIPLINARILY & THROUGH AN  APPRENTICE SYSTEM

If I had to “teach poetry,” which, thank God, I don’t, I would concentrate on prosody, rhetoric, philology, and learning poems by heart. I may be quite wrong, but I don’t see what can be learned except purely technical things—what a sonnet is, something about prosody. If you did have a poetic academy, the subjects should be quite different—natural history, history, theology, all kinds of other things. When I’ve been at colleges, I’ve always insisted on giving ordinary academic courses—on the eighteenth century, or Romanticism. True, it’s wonderful what the colleges have done as patrons of the artists. But the artists should agree not to have anything to do with contemporary literature. If they take academic positions, they should do academic work, and the further they get away from the kind of thing that directly affects what they’re writing, the better. They should teach the eighteenth century or something that won’t interfere with their work and yet earn them a living. To teach creative writing—I think that’s dangerous. The only possibility I can conceive of is an apprentice system like those they had in the Renaissance—where a poet who was very busy got students to finish his poems for him. Then you’d really be teaching, and you’d be responsible, of course, since the results would go out under the poet’s name.

THE PRODUCTIVE JOYS OF CONSTRAINTS 

But I can’t understand—strictly from a hedonistic point of view—how one can enjoy writing with no form at all. If one plays a game, one needs rules, otherwise there is no fun. The wildest poem has to have a firm basis in common sense, and this, I think, is the advantage of formal verse. Aside from the obvious corrective advantages, formal verse frees one from the fetters of one’s ego. Here I like to quote Valéry, who said a person is a poet if his imagination is stimulated by the difficulties inherent in his art and not if his imagination is dulled by them.

THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF COLLABORATION

I’ve always enjoyed collaborating very much. It’s exciting. Of course, you can’t collaborate on a particular poem. You can collaborate on a translation, or a libretto, or a drama, and I like working that way, though you can only do it with people whose basic ideas you share—each can then sort of excite the other. When a collaboration works, the two people concerned become a third person, who is different from either of them in isolation. I have observed that when critics attempt to say who wrote what they often get it wrong. Of course, any performed work is bound to be a collaboration, anyway, because you’re going to have performers and producers and God knows what.

Source: W.H. Auden, The Art of Poetry No. 17 via The Paris Review, published Spring 1974.

Add Your Comments

Disclaimer
Your email is never published nor shared.
Required
Required
Tips

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <ol> <ul> <li> <strong>

Ready?

%d bloggers like this: