Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dos/Don'ts for Younger Poets

Via the fantublous Brent Goodman at the Brother Swimming Beneath Me this tag: four Dos and Don'ts for younger writers. If you're reading, consider yourself tagged.


1. Read. Everything.

Not just poets you love, but those that leave you cold. Especially those that leave you cold. Figure out what it is you don't respond to in their work. Sometimes the easiest way to establish who you are is in relation to who you aren't. Aside from poetry--read everything. Learn about art, music, history, politics, the world, fiction, science. Regarding art--study other art forms, become conversant in their histories, trends and technical languages; learn how they intersect with literature, exploit those similarities. Read trash. Read literature. Just read.

2. Imitate.

Find writers you respond to and set aside time just to take apart their poems and imitate them. Look at how they open their poems and end them. Middles generally take care of themselves. Don't worry about not being innovative. You're learning here. No one started out a genius.

3. Work Every Day.

Devote part of every day to your poems. This doesn't mean, necessarily, generating new poems. But spend time with them. Jot down notes, lines, questions; think about what does and doesn't work. Tend to your work like any other daily task.

4. Persevere.

Keep at it. Don't stop. Find supportive people you admire and trust, share your work with them and take their comments and criticisms graciously. Become part of a writer's group or a local workshop if you can. If there isn't one, start one.


1. Fixate on what others are doing.

Do your own thing. Don't get sucked into who gets published where, who wins what, who gets praise, etc etc etc. That way lies discouragement and madness.

2. Take Rejection Personally.

Sure, your work is an extension of thought it up, you labored, you slaved, you want it out in the world. That doesn't mean that everyone is going to respond to your sonnet sequence the way you'd like. That's just the way of the world. Taste is subjective and a given reader on a given day might not respond strongly. That doesn't mean you're not talented; that your work's not good. It just means you haven't found the right place for it yet.

3. Be An Asshole.

Faith in your abilities is crucial...but don't become an overweening egomaniac. There are always better (and worse) writers out there. When faced with a misreading or a comment that you feel is off the mark, don't be defensive, don't be dismissive. Be gracious.

4. Expect Less of Yourself.

Push yourself to try new things: new subjects, new forms, new voices. Try to top yourself every time you write.

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