Auden on Teaching and Writing

At The Paris Review:

I may be quite wrong, but I don’t see what can be learned except purely technical things—what a sonnet is, something about prosody. If you did have a poetic academy, the subjects should be quite different—natural history, history, theology, all kinds of other things. When I’ve been at colleges, I’ve always insisted on giving ordinary academic courses—on the eighteenth century, or Romanticism. True, it’s wonderful what the colleges have done as patrons of the artists. But the artists should agree not to have anything to do with contemporary literature. If they take academic positions, they should do academic work, and the further they get away from the kind of thing that directly affects what they’re writing, the better. They should teach the eighteenth century or something that won’t interfere with their work and yet earn them a living. To teach creative writing—I think that’s dangerous. The only possibility I can conceive of is an apprentice system like those they had in the Renaissance—where a poet who was very busy got students to finish his poems for him. Then you’d really be teaching, and you’d be responsible, of course, since the results would go out under the poet’s name.

Full interview is here.

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2 comments

  1. Molly

    That “apprentice” system seems like the start of a slippery slope into lifelong ghostwriting, doesn’t it? On the one hand, there are all kinds of “writing prompts” suggesting you take on the style of a favorite author for a spell to improve, but on the other hand, writing so much in another’s voice that your words can simply finish theirs doesn’t seem like the way to develop an individual style and launch an independent career.

    • thecopybara

      I dunno, there are lots of good examples of apprenticeships in art, particularly the visual arts, where the apprentice has sort of thrown off the mantle of their tutor at some point and struck out on their own ground. I think that’s kind of the crux of the relationship and part of the natural process, that the younger person eventually chafes against the style of the older person. Guilds were like that too?

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