Pulitzer Prize-winner Gregory Pardlo holds a writing workshop with students at the Days-Massolo Center.

Confessional writing – personal, introspective writing from the ‘I’ perspective – is often read as self-indulgent and solipsistic. But Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer Gregory Pardlo would disagree.

Pardlo came to Hamilton on Oct. 4 to read his work. Before his reading, he met with students for a writer’s workshop and conversation titled “Mining Your Business: The Evolution of Confessional Writing.”

Pardlo enrolled in college with an undeclared major, intending on pursuing psychology. He dropped out after a little over a semester but went back to school thinking he would study political science and attend law school. Again, he dropped out.

“I said, ‘If I’m going back, I’m going to study what I want to study,’” Pardlo said. “My big rebellion against the world was I allowed myself to be an English major.”

During the workshop with students, he shared his approach to writing a poem, especially one that is “quasi-confessional” and interested in “selfhood.”

I pursue the poem with the presumption that I don’t yet know what the poem is about ... So I keep asking, until I discover something. There [needs to be] something being excavated. 

“There is a lot of dismissal and critiquing of poems – that I am certainly guilty of – that seem like they are written in service to ego, whether it’s to denigrate the ego or to bolster the ego,” Pardlo said. “I want to get to the point where we recognize there is no self that is not a self in the context of others… Every ‘I’ is an ‘I’ in context.”

Pardlo also shared a writing exercise for students to begin thinking about how to gain perspective on the ‘I’ character.

“Think of an incident when you engaged in some behavior that was morally suspect in order to acquire some object,” Pardlo said. “Who is the antagonist, the obstacle, to you getting that thing? Take that interaction and put it into an entirely different context… Write these two characters interacting in the same dynamic in a different context over an entirely different thing.”

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