Friday, August 17, 2012

The Creative Writing Seminar: A Factual Parable

Bill Berkson, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch

I was on the phone today with one of my great mentors, Michael Anania, talking about poets as academics, and was regaled with the following anecdote about Delmore Schwartz:

Schwartz was teaching a graduate poetry writing seminar, and asked the small gathering of students how many of them thought they would go on to become great poets.  Every one of them raised a hand.

"Ha!" said Schwartz.  "If more than two or three great poets were alive at any one time, it would count as a renaissance!"

The students in the seminar were John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Robert Creeley, Robert Bly, and Frank O'Hara.

Four out of five ain't bad.

UPDATE AUGUST 19: Opinions on the factual nature of this anecdote vary: see especially Andrew Epstein's convincing note about what probably really happened in the comments stream below.  Also, I'll take the rap for any garbling of the anecdote -- listening on a sketchy cell connection while trying to keep a three year old from smashing things introduces an element of surrealist distortion to most narratives!