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What I Usually Say to my Students
Written at the request of Joshua Marie Wilkinson, who’s compiling an anthology of “micro essays about approaches to teaching poetry”:
Hoard your time, since you’ll need it to be alone to think and to write.
Be frugal, since it’ll allow you to work less and have more time to think and to write.
Try, as best you can, to have an overview of what’s possible in writing, the various strategies attempted throughout history, throughout the world.
Identify the writers or works you admire the most, and read them very slowly, as many times as necessary.
Have faith that you will get better at thinking and writing, and that people will notice it, even if stingily and reluctantly, since you’re not entitled to any attention.
Be prepared to be disappointed over and over.
For the sake of experimentation, it’s OK to write badly, even foolishly, but don’t try to pass off crap you yourself are disinterested in.
Even if you’ll end up a mediocre writer, there’s an outside chance you will become an excellent reader, so this pursuit will still be worthwhile, sort of, even as you lie there, unheated, loveless and clutching your last packet of Ramen Pride.
Don’t be afraid to be as weird, meaning as PECULIARLY YOU as possible. Try to say it all. Be shameless. Don’t hesitate to revisit a piece over and over to follow and capture everything that it really wants to say. Use each draft as a lead and a springboard into revealing something truly astounding, even if the actual changes (a revised noun here, an added adjective there) may be minimal.
Be as crazy and as perverse as possible, be inspired to the point of madness, but don’t be glib.
Poetry should astound and frighten, not make you giggle for two seconds.