smooth veneer

I moved to Iowa for poetry but was fickle.


One workshop stands out in throbbing relief in my mind’s eye when I cast it back over 10 years– a decade— of graduate school in Iowa.

What is perhaps more surprising than the mere occasion of a single class period eclipsing hundreds of others nearly indistinguishable from it is the fact that it was not a Writers’ Workshop workshop but rather a nonfiction workshop corralled up in a ring of institutional seminar tables across campus the English and Philosophy Building, a monstrosity of 1970s architecture with an acre of parking lot; in the defensively independent Nonfiction Writing Program (still in its institutional English Department digs in

in contrast IWW’s digs in quaint Victorian Dey House on the far northern lip of campus, lapping up against the University President’s house lawn.

In the particular workshop that resonates to this day for me, an essay of mine (shocking, I know) was up for “workshop” and was currently undergoing a certain amount of gutting for its smoothness. Two of my classmates in particular– both workmanly dedicated published writers– were for all intents and purposes seriously bugged by what I interpreted at the time as a yawning So What? response to my essay.

In all truth writing workshops were never easy for me. The chasm of desolation yawned over the precipice of self doubt in the dramatically lit tableau of that time and place. A handful of days into that first September I walked out in afternoon light and sat down on a semi-wooded hillside full of spiders. I was accompanied by couple of poets and a fiction writer.

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