Muriel Spark 100 – poetry criticism workshops
October 1 - November 30
Good literary essays…have sustaining and stimulating qualities, like deep wells and clear rivers. Muriel Spark
Muriel Spark is rightly hailed as one of the greatest novelists and short story writers produced by Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. Less is said about her time as a critic, particularly her time as a critic of poetry. Before the publication of her first novel in 1957, Spark had already written several works of criticism, including books on John Masefield, Wordsworth and Mary Shelley. It’s where Spark got her start as a writer and its influence can be detected throughout her body of work.
One of the great critics of poetry in her day, Spark would be dismayed to see what has become of her trade. With poetry reviewing all but pushed out of even broadsheet book pages, and with fewer young critics coming through, the field from which Spark emerged is in decline. So, in the year of Spark’s centenary celebrations, the Scottish Poetry Library proposes to run two workshops on poetry and criticism using Spark as an example and an inspiration.
Spark, the Critic: Writing
In a workshop led by an experienced Scottish critic (TBC), attendees will read and discuss examples of Spark’s poetry criticism. After dissecting their strengths (and, perhaps, weaknesses), attendees will be encouraged to write their own Spark-inspired essays. The workshop will also use Spark to look at changing tastes in literature (the poetry of John Masefield, a favourite of Spark, is currently out of fashion) and whether there are strategies one might use to future-proof one’s essays. We shall also look at whether, as is sometimes said, ‘If you want to write good prose, read a poet’; in other words, can writing poetry improve your prose?
Spark, the Critic: Surviving
In a workshop led by former journalist and SPL Communications Manager Colin Waters, attendees will learn that writing good prose is not the only skill an emerging critic needs to survive and prosper. Using Spark’s life and pre-novel career as a model, the workshop will explore the traits a critic needs to survive: talent, diversification, stamina and luck. The workshop will suggest that, unlike in Spark’s era, critics today have to consider not only what to write, but whether in fact print is the best media for them, particularly in a time when newspaper review pages are in their shortest supply ever historically. Should a critic blog, vlog, tweet or podcast? (There will be an opportunity for a quick practical demonstration of how to put a podcast together). The workshop will also feature a short talk by a guest critic on how to be a critic in a time of Facebook and Instagram.