Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Don Coburn Poem: In The Workshop After I Read My Poem Aloud

Today I'm sharing a Don Coburn poem. Even if you're not into poetry, this will give chuckles and insight to anyone who writes.


All at once everyone in the room says
nothing. They continue doing this and I begin to know
it is not because they are dumb. Finally

the guy from the Bay Area who wears his chapbook
on his sleeve says he likes the poem a lot
but can't really say why and silence

starts all over until someone says she only has
a couple of teeny suggestions such as taking out
the first three stanzas along with

all modifiers except "slippery" and "delicious"
in the remaining four lines. A guy who
hasn't said a word in three days says

he too likes the poem but wonders why
it was written and since I don't know either
and don't even know if I should

I'm grateful there's a rule
I can't say anything now. Somebody
I think it's the shrink from Seattle

says the emotion is not earned and I wonder
when is it ever. The woman on my left
who just had a prose poem in Green Thumbs & Geoducks

says the opening stanza is unbelievable
and vindication comes for a sweet moment
until I realize she means unbelievable.

But I have my defenders too and the MFA from Iowa
the one who thinks the you is an I
and the they we and the then a now

wants to praise the way the essential nihilism
of the poem's occasion serves to undermine
the formality of its diction. Just like your comment

I  say to myself. Another admires the zenlike polarity
of the final image despite the mildly bathetic
symbolism of sheep droppings and he loves how

the three clichés in the penultimate stanza
are rescued by the brazen self-exploiting risk.
The teacher asks what about the last line

and the guy with the chapbook volunteers it suits
the poem's unambitious purpose though he has to admit
it could have been worded somewhat differently.

First published in The Iowa Review. Reprinted in Hard Choices: An Iowa Review Reader, edited by David Hamilton (University of Iowa Press: 1996); In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop, by Steve Kowit (Tilbury House: 1995); The Portable Poetry Workshop, by Jack Myers (Wadsworth: 2005), and The Starving Artist’s Survival Guide, by Marianne Taylor and Laurie Lindop (Simon Spotlight Entertainment: 2005). Also in Another Way to Begin (Finishing Line Press: 2006) and As If Gravity Were a Theory (Cider Press Review: 2006).

Ah, the psychology of writing. Are you ever hesitant to share your work for fear of judgment?


  1. Wow! I would be after an experience like that one!! But yes, I am probably always a bit hesitant. But I do it anyway.

  2. What a great piece! You really capture that moment, the few beats of pause after one shares a piece of writing with a group. Then there's the question of feedback, what is a writer really to do with it.

  3. What a gift to be able and write poetry! I have never had such a talent. Thank you for sharing this!