Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor, Nan Cohen! Nan is teaching Poetry I at our Woodland Hills location this Winter (starting January 9th), and sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
I remember that although there may be magical times when the needs of the work and the time to work are perfectly aligned, it’s more typical to have obstacles to overcome. As Tom Hanks’s character Jimmy Dugan says in A League of Their Own, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” Understanding our own obstacles, and figuring out how to get around them, is a crucial task for writers. I remind myself that no one else will care about my work as much as I do, and that no one is out there waiting for it. And then I pick up my notebook or my laptop and I go somewhere–to a coffee shop, a coworking space, a park–and I set a timer and I promise myself a bad draft. I can always write a bad draft of something, and when I have a bad draft, I have something to work with.
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
Right now it is from an interview with Hilary Mantel, the author of Wolf Hall: “Among writers themselves, the question is not who influences you, but which people give you courage.” I like to ask students to bring in poems that they have found enabling, poems that have shown them how to achieve something in a poem that they hadn’t known could be achieved. Maybe it’s the handling of a particular subject matter, maybe it’s an associative leap, maybe it’s using humor. But it’s always wonderful to see which poems have given us a piece of ourselves as poets.
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
Writers’ Program students bring a wealth of human experience into the classroom, and they are committed to practicing the art and craft of writing. People come ready to create a writing community and to find and help one another, as well as to find a teacher who can help them grow in their work, and that makes a powerful, focused atmosphere. I’m still in touch with students from my first adult classes for Stanford Continuing Studies almost 20 years ago, and I see that some of the friendships among them have continued all that time–longstanding, sustaining connections built on the shared endeavor of poetry.
What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I hope that from the first day students feel that their journey as writers, wherever they happen to be in it, is honored by all of us in the workshop. This craft is never finished, no one has cracked the code, we’re all humbled by the art. If the class can serve as a welcoming, stimulating place where people can take artistic risks and receive feedback that helps them understand their own ambitions as artists better, they can keep growing as writers long after the course is over. The best classes I ever took made me both more humble about how hard it is to write well, and more audacious in my own ambitions, and I think humility and audacity make a great combination for any artist.
Can I share one more quotation? This is from Elias Canetti: “The process of writing has something infinite about it. Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation.” This reminds me that no one is an absolute beginner, and no one’s work is finished who is alive and continues to write. If you have written something other than poetry, some of those same obsessions and fascinations will come along with you when you begin to write poems. And you’ll probably discover some new ones as well!
Thank you to Nan for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!
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