Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“I know nothing”

The morning Fiction Workshop with Bret Lott took place in the Scandinavian language room of the Philosophy Faculty building. The room had glass cabinets full of books in the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian originals as well as maps of the countries.

Roughly thirty-six hours of my time in Prague was spent in that room. To get there, I had to first risk life and limb on the 22 tram, sprint across the bridge over the Vltava, dodge traffic on the main street in front of the Philosophy Faculty building, open the cloudy-glass front door, and run up the four flights of stairs to the top floor, at which point, I would arrive breathless, thirsty, starving, exhausted and generally ready for workshop.

Since I was heading to Norway from Prague, the location seemed auspicious. Here is Bret under the map of Norway, probably about to say the mantra that he repeated throughout our time together “I know nothing.”

Nearly every day he said this same phrase like a slogan from his own political party: "I KNOW NOTHING"

He gave us this quote from John Berryman: “You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you’re merely imitating yourself, going nowhere because that’s always easiest.”

And many things to read, including a wonderful article by Valerie Martin,

"Waiting for the Story to Start" by Valerie Martin

The workshop was full of restlessness since all of us wanted to be out wandering the city. Still, we gave those three hours willingly, sitting with our faces upturned towards Bret like the uniformed girls in Madeline looking up at Miss Clavel. Even though he said, “I know nothing,” we never ran out of questions.

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