We sat surrounding Dorianne Laux, up a twisty stair in a room at the top of the Tivoli. She was warm. We were worried, for our poems would be critiqued in the next three hours, and no one yet knew how it would happen.

I answered the call to adventure weeks before, via email. And when I stood at the bus stop in the rain, my guide stopped for me and took me with her. But when we reached the city, I wanted to navigate alone. I ate a large, mango-magical salad and made my way to the dark brick tower that was the Tivoli and climbed.

We took her tests: a memory, recited as if from within it, no matter how long ago. A poem about an object that mystified us. And then she grappled with us.

We hadn’t expected roughness with a smile. We’d expected poems on paper handed back marked up. But she held our poems in one fist—later, as we would discover, hardly marked at all—and told us where they wanted to go and how we were holding them back. More spit and vinegar, please. As if they were our children and we’d raised them to say nothing at all if they couldn’t say something nice.

Why there are few poets: Who
wants to walk around
all day asking, What is that?

Leave A Comment

  1. BernardL October 13, 2008 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    I would imagine teaching poetry to be one of the most difficult of all faculty assignments. I’ve noticed people with a good basic knowledge of poetry mechanics and rhyme have a fun time with it; but the ones who write free form poetry use it like a weapon or statement, and are humorless when asked to explain their work. 🙂

  2. Beth Partin October 13, 2008 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    The word “humorless” definitely doesn’t apply to Dorianne Laux. She was great fun to be around, and even though her comments were quite blunt, they were delivered in a caring fashion (at least I thought so). It also helped that she didn’t really seem to have any favorites among the poems–she found something to improve in all of them.

  3. BernardL October 14, 2008 at 9:33 am - Reply

    That’s what I meant. It sounds as if you have a good instructor. She knows the mechanics very well, and has fun teaching the subject. I had a professor at Cal State who thought every line of every poem was somehow sacred.

  4. Beth Partin October 14, 2008 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Sacred in that it should be treated with respect, or sacred in that not one word could be changed?

  5. BernardL October 15, 2008 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Free form Xanadu message poems were his thing, and if one of us tried to sneak in a rhyme (usually me), we were applying for work with Hallmark. I asked him if there was some reason free form couldn’t have rhyming words without counting meter and accent. He said that isn’t done. I’ve been doing it ever since. My wife likes them. 🙂

  6. Beth Partin October 15, 2008 at 10:39 am - Reply


    I have worked in publishing for twenty years now, and there are people who just want to close off part of the world to justify what they are doing. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. I know a guy who’s a well-known experimental writer/VJ who once said that people just shouldn’t write psychological novels anymore–all novels should be experimental because of all the changes in culture and technology. I had another guy express chagrin at poets because he was writing a novel and thought he should get more credit for writing more words than poets. (If that’s the standard, then Sidney Sheldon is a genius.)

    Do whatever the hell you want with poetry.

    This teacher probably didn’t want to deal with rhyme because it’s very hard to write a good rhyming poem.

  7. Carolyn October 15, 2008 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Hi, Beth, What fun to come across this. A poetic souvenir of our day. I think your writing perfectly captured the experience. A bit like a glimpsed memory–only a communal one!

  8. Beth Partin October 15, 2008 at 4:02 pm - Reply


    yeah, haibuns are fun to write, especially since I haven’t read up much on the form. I just do it the way I want to. One of these days I’ll have to start revising them.