Writing Badly: A Poetry Workshop

In the essay collection The Virtues of Poetry, James Longenbach describes what he calls "dilation," where poets pile up words, abstract images, and colors in a way that risks the reader's boredom. "Reading poems, we expect the language to hold our attention, because the syllables create dense patterns of sounds, reinforcing a similar density of meaning," he writes. How then do we recognize bland writing? How then can we say with certainty that a line is brilliant or boring? Longenbach concludes that a line's success depends on its relationship to other effects. "We slow down, our thoughts wander, and we're gripped by what we're reading because we've drifted away from it." Our workshop will consider more deeply Longenbach's concept of writing badly, and more importantly, we will attempt to get beyond the notion that there is any bad writing at all—the often paralyzing effect that prevents poets from putting down words in the first place. 

  • Instructors: Win Bassett and Nathan Spoon
  • Length of Workshop: 3 hours 
  • Date: Saturday, June 18
  • Time: 2 - 5 p.m.
  • Cost: $46 members / $51 non-members
  • Location: The Skillery in Germantown 

About the Instructors:

Win Bassett teaches and coaches at a boys’ school in Nashville. His essays and interviews have been published by The Atlantic, Oxford American, The Paris Review Daily, The Poetry Foundation, and The Washington Post. His essay “Teachings” made Longreads’ Best of 2015. His poems have appeared in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Image, Ruminate, and Still: The Journal

Win serves on the editorial staff of the Virginia Quarterly Review. He is a former assistant district attorney and serves on the PEN Prison Writing Program Fiction Committee. He volunteers as Legal Advisor for Asymptote, a journal of literary translation, and The Field Office, a literary agency based in Lexington, Kentucky. He previously served as Community Manager for Bull City Press, an independent literary press in Durham, North Carolina. He has also received a scholarship to the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference. 

Nathan Spoon is a bookseller at Parnassus Books in Nashville. His poems have appeared in Oxford Poetry, Reflections, From the Lighthouse, the young readers' anthology What Have You Lost?, and limited edition chapbooks. He has taught classes on haiku, drawing, and the contemplative life, and is editor of a forthcoming project called Vincent’s Ears.