In Praise of Tim Gunn

I think Tim Gunn might be one of my heroes.

If you watch Project Runway, you know why. Tim’s got one of the better jobs on the show–he gets to introduce the challenges, motivate the designers to succeed, and then he critiques their work-in-progress from an objective standpoint in order to help them put their best garments down the runway at the end of the episode.

What I love about Tim is that he is, on the outside, a complete fuddy-duddy. He’s always sharply dressed and well-appointed. His hair is never out of place. His glasses are never smudged. He always seems deeply serious, even when he’s telling a joke.

But underneath it all, I believe Tim Gunn is sincere. I think all of his actions and statements come from a sincere place. He really wants people to do their best all the time, and I think he understands what people need to hear, even when they have to hear something unpleasant about their work. But it doesn’t mean he wears gloves. He’ll break it down and be blunt when it’s warranted.

Witness this past week’s episode, when an angry Tim Gunn (his rarest incarnation) appeared in the stew room at the end of the episode to lambast Team Luxe for turning on Michael C on the runway, even after they had all committed not to throw a team member under the bus. He rightfully called out Gretchen for being the “manipulative” ring leader of the whole debacle. His remarks were so purposeful and so true that even I, simply watching, felt ashamed. While I love Tim Gunn, I would never want him to be angry at me.

What Tim Gunn does in the workroom is what I aspire to do in the workshop room. I don’t like to shame creative people who are working hard to make art out of nothing, particularly an art very few people care to read. Tim’s feedback to the designers takes into account their unique point of view, but reminds them that point of view alone does not a beautiful garment make. Designers on Project Runway have to learn to edit their work, style it appropriately, and use flawless construction.

Poetry’s not so different.

Isn’t this our goal in the poetry workshop? Or, shouldn’t it be? To stress those elements that bolster “flawless construction”–form, diction, syntax, word choice, line breaks. To style poems appropriately–through rhythm and music. To edit poems effectively, using only the most essential words and nothing superfluous or showy.

We don’t want “matronly” poems. We don’t want “dowdy” poems. We don’t want poems that are “yesterday.” We want to be poetry-forward. We want to see what exists and imagine what could exist, then make it be.

Almost all the designers unequivocally love Tim, and I think it’s because they know Tim respects each of them. And that, too, is the last critical piece for the workshop room.

My favorite Tim Gunn confrontation? Kenley in season 5. The woman could not take feedback and constantly argued with him, tried to change his mind. She got to the final three, sure. But she took a yellow wedding dress with a feathered skirt. I mean, really. She later threw a cat at her boyfriend in a domestic altercation. I think we all saw that coming.

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