I had a revelation once at writing summer camp for adults at the University of Iowa writers’ conference. I noticed when everybody read their short prose pieces that mine sounded nothing like theirs. But then I read mine and people were delightfully receptive. I wrote about my dad botching sun tea. “I’ll remember that melted orange plastic pitcher for a long, long time,” one of them said and the other two laughed and nodded while we walked away from class, across the stinking river, backs turned to the university art gallery that was featuring second-string Picassos and African furniture.
I realized in that moment and for the first time that maybe not sounding like everybody else is a good thing.
But that was all about prose. It was the opposite reaction in my advanced poetry class. I read the poem that won me the big hoop-dee-doo writing award only a few months earlier and the bald-asshole workshop leader who worked mostly in prisons and wrote about breast milk eroticism told me my poem had “a lot of work to do.”
He was mad at me anyway because when our class went out together at lunchtime and climbed up the interminable campus steps to forage for chi chi sandwiches, my retelling of going to a computer generated atonal concert that was held in the dark by a composer whose silver jacket buttons I was madly in love with got more laughs than his pretentious snarking about “language poets”.
My revelation stands.