Saturday, February 23, 2013

Donkey Spatula

My students were feeling their oats last Wednesday. As often happens in a writing workshop, the creative energies bounced off one another, colliding and colluding, building into a sort of fervid silliness. Wednesday, this silliness was taking the form of random word pairings and uproarious laughter that was eating into the start of our class. "We have to get to work," I told them, feeling that I had better take charge lest someone lose precious workshop time.

"We are working," the students replied. "We're being creative."

"No," I told them. "Putting random ideas together is not creative. It's just absurdity. I can't say 'donkey spatula' and consider myself creative. To be creative, the two words must come together to create something."

I should be crediting someone for this idea because I know it is not original with me, but my mind cannot lay its finger on the name. (Gardner? Roethke? Readers, you'll help me out in the comments section, won't you?) Nevertheless, the distinction is an important one. Two disparate ideas yoked together by force doesn't necessarily create something. It's the poet who puts the disparate together in a way that becomes harmonious and enlightening, that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. The words might create an idea or a setting or a character or a voice or perhaps even a sound, but unless something is created by the seemingly random pairing, then it has failed its work.

Our class has a running list of mottos we should put on class tee shirts. I'd like to nominate "donkey spatula" as a tee shirt idea and a reminder to all of us that creating is harder and nobler work than it may seem--but I'd like to nominate it, too, as a celebration of the silliness that allows us a much needed reprieve for that work.

I'm so grateful for my students, who add levity and light to every class.

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