That’ll Learn ‘Em: On the question of whether writing can be taught

In his classic text On Film-making, Alexander Mackendrick makes this point, which I believe also can be applied to poetry, writing, or any art: “Now to the question so often asked about film-making: is it a craft that can be taught? Absolutely not, no more than anything else that is an ‘art’ can be taught. On the other hand, it may just be possible to call to the attention of the beginner the usages of the ‘languages’ of cinema that have so far developed (and continue to evolve). The best thing I can do as a teacher is to provide an environment within which those who have imagination and sensibility (and the essential energy, concentration and self-discipline) can learn, teaching themselves.”

So basically, ¬†grammar, punctuation, and usage can be taught, the act of careful and attentive reading can be taught, and the history and development of issues and approaches to craft can be taught. Ah, but learning — that’s up to the learner. Imagination is key. And the willingness to make the effort. Over and over. With that ridiculous combination of hubris and humility that seems to be required to make art.

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