Friday, June 18, 2010

What Should Poets Know When Starting Out?

Thanks, Kelli! I've borrowed this question from Kelli Russell Agodon's blog, Book of Kells today. I can't quite get used to the idea that I am a poet who has been writing and publishing for more than a decade. This means that I no longer qualify as a young poet starting out. Go figure.

1. Many ways we see ourselves as poets never change: a little stranger, a bit outside the norm, not looking to become rich or secure a spot on reality TV.

2. Your relationship with poetry can last forever. Poetry will not divorce you. It will not leave town for a better job or decide to become a monk. In other words, developing your life in poetry will guide who you become -- no matter what else does or does not happen in your life.

3. Although poetry is most often pursued in quiet spaces (or maybe with the din of coffee shops and airline terminals) poets need each other. Find your poetry friends; create community.

4. You don't need an MFA, but it will not hurt you to commit yourself to poetry in this way - "You must change your life" Rilke states. Leaving the comfort of your life to travel to a new state, a new country, to pursue your art isn't a bad way to spend two years. Consider it an extended honeymoon with your sexy spouse, Poetry.

5.  It will always be hard to write the next piece / it should always be hard to write the next piece. OK maybe this is not true for everyone, but I still wonder how to write a better poem, how to push outside my comfort zone, how to break-out into new and exciting forms. If I were to find writing poems came easily, I might have to take-up professional surfing instead.

6. Find your dead poet mentors. Bishop, Brooks, Levertov, Lorca, Rilke, and Celan are some of mine, I immerse myself in their work; I read their letters, biographies, critical studies. I imagine them as close friends. If available, I get CDs of them reading their work and drive around town with them in the car with me. You want to find your poetic progenitors. Create your own family.

7. Enjoy the accessories of your craft. Choose a pen and a notebook, or a laptop or Ipad that you want to spend a lifetime with. I've been using the same kind of writing notebooks for 15 years, they are intimately connected with my writing. I was devastated when the Canadian company changed the style a few years back. I have now stockpiled extra supplies.

8. Be generous. Be generous with yourself and others. Know that you need to write some awful poems in order to hopefully write some that you are proud to sign your name to. Be generous and write often without the critic on your shoulder. Be generous with the world around you so that the world responds in kind.

9. Reading and writing are inextricably linked for me - and for many other poets I know. I need to read work that excites me as a pathway into my own work. It is a good thing to be influenced by poets that you love. Don't be afraid.

10. Poetry is a communication point between the poet -- the poem -- the reader. This means when you begin to find your readers, you will want to cherish them. Be generous when someone emails you for one of your poems; help other writers; attend readings; show that you understand that poetry is a way to communicate. Or so I feel -- to quote a poet.


  1. These are wonderful. I left some comments earlier at Kelli's place.

  2. Eloquent thoughts, eloquently written. Thanks so much for this.

  3. This was helpful to read today - a nourishing and inspiring post. Thank you.

  4. DeeDee, Erin, Maureen ~ your responses nourish me. Thank you for taking the time to respond. It means so much to me.

  5. "Don't be afraid."

    Thanks for this, Susan, and good luck tonight!

  6. Thanks, Mari,

    I'm done with readings for a few months. I think tonight was fine -- but a small crowd as I knew it would be ... still respectable.