Last week’s installment of the four-week series known as Winter with the Writers featured Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn. It began at 4 p.m. on Thursday with the master class, where Professor Dunn examined several poems by Rollins students. Many of these poems were quite poignant and had significant potential.
To Dunn, poems are “provisional documents” and the students’ works are “poems on the way to becoming poems.” As a poet, one must be able to learn and sift through all the constructive criticism and find out what must be kept and what must go. Dunn began the workshop by saying that students may read their poems aloud, but when talking about their own, they “can’t defend it.” Professor Dunn said he writes until he has “startled” himself by his writing, and then he goes on to erase everything he had written, then starts again from scratch.
From there, one by one, each student read his or her poem, while other students in attendance commented on what they liked, what they did not like, and their favorite parts of the work. Dunn gave his own comments on the poems and said what needed to be improved. One of the most interesting bits of advice Dunn gave is that poets “shouldn’t write [about] things that happen in real life,” because it is a difficult skill to master. “Writing poetry is a process… to be a poet, you really have to love to do it [as] the rewards [are] so small [and] neglect is likely.”
After the workshop, Dunn gave the Rollins and Winter Park community a reading of some of his older work, as well as new poems from his latest collection Here and Now. His riveting and insightful words drew a great ovation. When it came to questions, one person asked Dunn about his greatest inspiration in life, which he responded, “I don’t know. Inspiration is a funny word. People who wait for inspiration only write a few times a year… my best inspiration occurs when I first start a poem.” He said that he “subverted some notions of poetry” to the audience and interns and urged future poets to take themselves as seriously as other artists.