15 January 2008

If this is a blanket, then I don't want to sleep.

Usually the cold weather doesn't get to me, but this morning I really froze my ass off. It made me thankful that both of my classes are in the same building as my office, as lazy as that sounds. This semester I have my Very First Course Release ever. I feel so lucky!

Usually I get here early (by 8:30). Yesterday Ray had a checkup, so I rolled in around 10:30. All day I felt totally behind.

Today's the first day of my advanced undergrad poetry workshop. I'm going to ask Mona, my teaching intern, to give the students advice about their lives as writers.

Now I'm going to ask you, too. What advice would you give a beginning (but not totally new) poet regarding the craft, the process, survival in general?


~ said...

What advice would you give a beginning (but not totally new) poet regarding the craft, the process, survival in general?

****Of course, read. Read everything, but start with the greats then read who is alive and writing now.

Write about what is important to you in a way that even surprises yourself.

Remember prose moves forward, poetry circles back.

Every word is important, use your best ones.

As for survival, when I was an undergrad, I never even learned about submitting (accept to our college journal), so writing was for the pure pleasure of writing.

I believe you write to please yourself, not editors.

Also, the more you give to poetry, the more it gives back (and this isn't just in publication).

I guess for survival, always keep a book of poems and a notebook with you in case of emergency.

Meagan said...

I'm not a poet... and not an experienced enough writer in general to really be giving anyone advice... but I think the most interesting advice I've ever been given is: Don't get a job. His theory seemed to be that it's hard to get started when you have a secure alternate income.

Of course, I'm taking that with a grain of salt, because otherwise it's not very good advice for SURVIVAL at all. I don't think he meant it entirely literally.

Karen J. Weyant said...

Make friends with writers (poets, novelists, etc...) because no one else will be able to stand you! LOL. Seriously, love more things than just writing -- you will find great material for your writing if you live for more than just that manuscript.

emily said...

I would say: If you do this, you are in danger of getting yourself in pretty deep. Only do it if it's something you want.

If someone ever said that to me, I probably wouldn't listen, though.

Lyle Daggett said...

The three things most of the poets I know like to do the most are write, read, and sit and talk with other people (especially with other poets though not exclusively).

Carry a notebook and pen everywhere. Have one next to your bed at night. Write while you're eating, while you're having a conversation with someone.

Find a few poets, two or three or four, whose work really speaks to you, and spend a lot of time reading and re-reading them. Ideally, try to find poets from a variety of places and time periods and backgrounds. (For example, 20th century Spain, 20th century California, T'ang Dynasty China, ancient Mediterranean.)

Don't be in a huge hurry to publish a lot. Make writing the real priority.

If you find words come to you easily when you write, experiment with careful meticulous writing that forces you to slow down and rethink as you go. If you find words come out with difficulty, pretend it's somebody else writing and just let the stuff come out, blurt it out, never mind if it's any good. Find a way to write that (sometimes) goes against the grain of your first impulses.

Don't be freaked out by "writer's block" or dry periods. Sometimes it runs in cycles -- some writers and artists need dormant periods between the active writing periods, to let experience take shape. Learn the discipline to ride it out. Read, walk, rake leaves, spend time being quiet.

The point of writing a poem is not to write something that will critique well. Maybe 5 or 10 percent of what goes into writing a poem involves technical stuff that can be taught in a classroom. The rest comes from other, larger, arenas of life. Sometimes it's better to leave a poem with a few rough edges, a loose thread or two.

After you listen to someone read a poem (whether one of their own or by someone else), don't immediately jump in and start talking about it. The silence around a poem is part of the poem.

Teaching in an English department or a Creative Writing program isn't necessarily the ideal way to make a "living" while being a poet. There can be advantages to not having to worry about how much (or where) you're publishing or whether you'll get tenure. A poet can be a taxi driver, an office worker, a tax accountant, a picture framer, a biochemist, a nurse, a worker in a warehouse.

Over time, writing may lead you to question some of your basic values and life choices -- whether to get married, whether to have children, whether to quit your job, whether to move to Oregon or Portugal, your religious beliefs (if any), how to live on the earth, etc. Go ahead and ask yourself the questions writing leads you to.

The hardest thing to learn is when the poem is done. There can come a point when any more reworking can start to gut the poem of its substance. Learn to stop and leave it alone. There will be more poems.

Peter Joseph Gloviczki said...


I'd encourage your writers to enjoy themselves and their writing. Write work that excites them, that interests them and keeps them reading. Find poems they admire and then aspire to write poems that are better than them.

Submit only your finished work, and send to places you've heard of, have read and have enjoyed.

Erin said...

Read, write, talk, listen, observe, get your hands dirty, sure. Of course. Yes & yes.

But learn to trust yourself along the way. If you can do that, the rest will come. I trust that.

Marz91606 said...

Hi Mary, I just started a blog and wanted to see if you would link me to yours. As for advice for poets, I would caution them not to write about flowers. They aren't particularly interesting and unless one has something new to say about them, flowers have been written way too many times.

Emily said...

my advice: take a few of those really boring technical writing or journalism classes, just to gain marketable skills to hold you over until you can live off your creative wares. learn software platforms like adobe and quark. be much more employable than me!

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