In the Workshop After I Read My Poem Aloud

      by Don Colburn

All at once everyone in the room says
nothing. They continue doing this and I begin to know
it is not because they are dumb. Finally

the guy from the Bay Area who wears his chapbook
on his sleeve says he likes the poem a lot
but can’t really say why and silence

starts all over until someone says she only has
a couple of teeny suggestions such as taking out
the first three stanzas along with

all modifiers except “slippery” and “delicious”
in the remaining four lines. A guy who
hasn’t said a word in three days says

he too likes the poem but wonders why
it was written and since I don’t know either
and don’t even know if I should

I’m grateful there’s a rule
I can’t say anything now. Somebody
I think it’s the shrink from Seattle

says the emotion is not earned and I wonder
when is it ever. The woman on my left
who just had a prose poem in Green Thumbs & Geoducks

says the opening stanza is unbelievable
and vindication comes for a sweet moment
until I realize she means unbelievable.

But I have my defenders too and the MFA from Iowa
the one who thinks the you is an I
and the they a we and the then a now

wants to praise the way the essential nihilism
of the poem’s occasion serves to undermine
the formality of its diction. Just like your comment

I say to myself. Another admires the zenlike polarity
of the final image despite the mildly bathetic
symbolism of sheep droppings and he loves how

the three clichés in the penultimate stanza
are rescued by the brazen self-exploiting risk.
The teacher asks what about the last line

and the guy with the chapbook volunteers it suits
the poem’s unambitious purpose though he has to admit
it could have been worded somewhat differently.


First published in The Iowa Review 19:2, spring/summer 1989, pages 169–170. The poem also appeared in As If Gravity Were a Theory (San Diego, California: Cider Press, 2005), which won the Cider Press Review Book Award. Visit Don Colburn’s website. See also Brian Brodeur’s “How a Poem Happens” blog for a 2011 interview with Don Colburn about this poem.