There is some lively discussion within these interviews about if and how you can learn writing from a teacher. Caroline Bird expresses skepticism, then off the tape revised her position, saying, “I think you can teach the craft of writing. The art of writing has to come from within, that cannot be taught.” Talent without discipline is not fruitful, but discipline without talent lacks effective voice.
Boleslavsky begins Acting: The First Six Lessons, with his protagonist saying, “I hear that you teach dramatic art.” The response:
No! I am sorry. Art cannot be taught. To possess an art means to possess talent. That is something one has or has not. You can develop it by hard work, but to create a talent is impossible.
We can apprentice ourselves to writers, in person or in print, and thereby learn that “something more” that can be transmitted in teaching. Phyllis Hoge Thompson apprenticed herself to Yeats and Rilke, and Carolivia Herron apprenticed herself to Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Phyllis: Two poets have mattered more to me than any others: Yeats and Rilke. I chose Yeats for my doctor’s thesis, because I knew that no matter how long the graduate work took, it would be impossible for me to grow tired of him. And I knew that because of the babies [ four children], it would take a long time.
Even so, after I had been writing poems for some years I still could not tell for sure whether Yeats had affected my own poetry, except that I loved what he wrote, since I very early found out I lacked the power to imitate him….
It’s harder to talk about Rilke. He is the first person I loved after Yeats. He changed the way I think, the way I write, the way I live. I have lifted lines from his work in each of my three books. And some poems which seem very distant from anything he wrote actually began with him.
Carolivia: They said, “What’s your favorite book?” And I said to myself, “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I ever say it’s not Paradise Lost by John Milton …. May my right hand forget its cunning!”
And I just said, “Paradise Lost.” … even in a situation where it would not be politic to say that, to admit to it, I could never deny what that book did. It took me out of Hell. When I was eleven years old. And carried me.