HOW DO YOU TEACH CREATIVE WRITING? YOU DON’T.

They are defending creative writing at the Huffpost.  But look:

1. The real work of writing is two-fold: reading and writing in solitude.

2. Good literature classes teach literature.

3. Students do creative writing beginning in grade school.

This is all you need. Note what’s missing from the above. The creative writing class. The point is not that the creative writing class for older students might not help, but the real issue is: what does the creative writing program as a ubiquitous, nation-wide phenomenon provide?

Why aren’t literature classes and the writing all students do in school starting in the early grades, and the reading and writing they do in solitude enough?

Lousy schools? Lazy writers?

So is a ‘creative writing class’ going to help a student who hasn’t read enough literature, either because he’s too lazy, or the schools have failed him or her? No way. Even creative writing teachers admit they are no substitute for reading literature.

So what exactly is going on in those ‘creative writing classes?’ No wonder the huffpost writers gave no specifics, beyond, well it’s good to put would-be writers in a room together and have a writer ‘teach’ them.

Can you imagine Shelley and Byron and Keats sitting in a classroom together as writing students? It’s laughable.

The writer has to find himself in solitude, not trying to please another writer sitting next to him in a classroom. This is just common sense.

Finally, and no one talks about this except Scarriet, the whole Creative Writing Industry was started by a handful of men—the movement has a history, and it happens that the men who started the Creative Writing Industry had a certain bias for ‘new’ poetry, and this, of course, is the trump card of the creative writing industry: You don’t write very well, but we’re going to teach you how to write like a contemporary, approved by your peers. The default ‘sameness’ of the creative writing industry is that you are not allowed to write like Shelley or Keats or Byron. Write any way you like! But if we sniff the faintest smell of ‘old’ on you, you’re gone.

But the so-called ‘old’ is where really great writing resides, and the contemporary ought to be simply who you are—you shouldn’t have to go through a brainwasing session in a creative writing class so that you can sound ‘contemporary.’

How we get from the sublimity of Shelley to the inanity of Silliman is not something the ahistorical dweebs of the MFA will ever figure out.

For this is where it all leads.  Recently on his blog Ron Silliman pretended serious analysis of the following.

I saw the corpse of the plum tree
of the camel his splattered guts
the soiled tears of the child
the sniffle of orphan light

I abandoned the pursuit of art
to sleep for eternity
under the fevered feet of my children

“It calls to mind Pound’s old dictum that poetry needs to be at least as well written as prose,” Silliman writes.  But Pound wrote bad prose which was passed off as good poetry.  Well, but Silliman can’t help it.  Nutty Pound-worship is just what these guys do.  It’s the track the train must run on.  Silliman sees into the life of this excerpt, but none of the rest of us do.  And this, too, is part of the game.

The “new” MFA thing now is the so-called “The New Sincerity” which features “sincere,” “naive,” or “childlike” poetry by poets such as Matt Hart, Tao Lin, Dorothea Lasky and Nate Pritts.  But this is a mere throw-back to Frank O’Hara.   There is not the least formal interest here.  There is more formal interest in one stanza of Shelley than in all this poetry.

Until modern poetry really comes to terms with the major Romantic poets, nothing is going to improve, or help poetry to become popular again.

Modern poetry and Creative Writing are now synomymous.  The idea is not to grow poets, but to grow paying poetry students—who are beholden to canonizing their instructors, with the possibility of being canonized, in turn.  This is precisely what the modern poets, beginning with Pound and Eliot and their lawyer, John Quinn, and continuing with their academic friends, the New Critics, did, and therefore the very idea of the “modern” in poetry is linked with the business model of Creative Writing.

This is such a self-evident fact, that Creative Writing officials are blind to it.  The difficulty here is that you can’t teach the new.  Nor can one teach the light of which poetry is the mere shadow; the cause of poetry cannot be taught, either.  Life teaches this, not Creative Writing, which is its pale substitute—poets mingling with poets, in a frenzied attempt to be “modern” or “contemporary.”   But the “contemporary” is a shadow of a shadow, and chasing it, we find poetry to be in the sorry state it is today.

The Creative Writing industry may be a successful, and nearly flawless institutional model.  But no great poet has ever written for an institution, or to flatter and be flattered by their peers.  The Creative Writing industry cannot teach itself out of this dilemma; its default setting is fashionable appearance which appeals to the contemporary spirit.

Socrates long ago identified those who charge a fee for a vague kind of ‘learning.’

Sophists.

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34 Comments

  1. David said,

    February 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Can you imagine Shelley and Byron and Keats sitting in a classroom together as writing students? It’s laughable.

    Or, for that matter, Pound and Eliot and Williams.

  2. David said,

    February 16, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Tom, you might want to have a run at this interview with a Grande Dame of the Creative Writing MFA:

    http://triquarterly.org/interviews/linda-mccarriston-interview

    Clearly she’s in a position of power that allows her to speak critically of the MFA culture, but is she an agent of change? She teaches “while holding open all the doors on which is written Do Not Enter“, but does she teach the Romantics or encourage students who want to learn to write like Shakespeare or Shelley?

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 16, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      David,

      Thanks for linking that interview. I was writing on Foetry.com and have been asking since then, on Scarriet, the broader implications of how the poetry is affected by FOETRY going back to the beginning of modernism. I find it very interesting when McCarriston says:

      “Yes, in the response to the FOETRY scandal of 2005, which exposed the relationships between poetry book prize winners and the judges who awarded them. Though it was terrible to see how usual it was for these prizes to go to personal friends, lovers, protégées (the most spectacular instance of this “insider trading” involved Jorie Graham, who had awarded the Georgia Review Contemporary Poetry Series prize to her lover, Peter Sachs), outrage was mostly personal and monetary—about who “never had a chance” and what the reading fees were. (Graham is alleged to have said she never intended to read any manuscripts, and did not.)

      But there was no concern about the books themselves as—what, content? Did these books differ in any way? The overall response would suggest that it was all about and only about poets, not poetry. And that books, prizes, money, et cetera, were about people, not ideas. The deep underlying assumption shared by just about everyone was that there was no utterance of any note, anywhere.”

      She does mention Shakespeare, in passing, but mostly speaks of contemporary poets. Robert Hass was her mentor. Hass was in Yvor Winters’ Workshop—Yvor Winters hated Poe, and began his career associated with the Fugitives/New Critics. See, so it’s so easy to trace these things back. It’s a real small world.

      Tom

  3. David said,

    February 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    McCarriston criticizing Foetry sounds good, but it also seems a bit like Newt Gingrich criticizing inside-the-Beltway politics.

    As I commented on JG’s blog, it would be interesting to see what happens if one of McCarriston’s students comes to class soaked in Shelley and lit up with the desire to revive the Romantic poetic in his own poetry. Will that forbidden door truly be held open?

  4. Bill said,

    February 17, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Coming to terms with the Romantics may be essential to writing great poetry. But I don’t see any connection between that and making poetry popular. For that poetry needs to be what people like: entertaining. Since it’s in a hole, to be popular it has to be more entertaining than movies, videogames, TV, and sports. How hard can that really be, for the greatest minds of our generation? Call of Duty VI: The Poem! What are you doing for the next month, Marcus? Get off your stool!

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm

      Bill,

      Why should poetry have to compete with anything? Before TV and videogames, there were wars, walking tours, hardships, drinking bouts, songs, novels, sailing ships, sunsets,and widespread superstition and ignorance, but Byron’s poetry was still a best-seller.

      It doesn’t matter for poetry that videogames and TV exist. Why should it? I know it’s a common argument, but this is like saying we can’t have poetry because we have the outdoors, or we can’t have love, because there’s sex.

      Tom

      • David said,

        February 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

        We do hear an awful lot these days about poetry having to compete with all the surrounding “noise”, “information overload”, etc. It seems to me that some of the poetic strategies developed in response to this perceived situation only serve to produce poetry that blends into its environment and ultimately fades from view altogether.

    • doubleyouaye said,

      February 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Prose still sells moderately well. I see people reading on the NYC subways all the time, though never poetry. But what prose sells best? If Harry Potter and Twilight are any indication, it seems to be literature that alights the imagination. Obviously, it doesn’t even have to be good; it can be artless.

      But it has imagination, at least. Most MFA poets, most contemporary poets, don’t have imagination. When a poet doesn’t have imagination, he talks about himself and how he feels and what he thinks in a rather straightforward sincerity that the public isn’t going to waste its time on.

      Which is all to say that poetry doesn’t have to compete with anything. People will give their time to certain prose because it gives them something back. What the hell does an awful poet like Dorothea Lasky give back? Certainly not my wasted time.

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 17, 2012 at 6:01 pm

        double,

        What you are saying here, “When a poet doesn’t have imagination, he talks about himself and how he feels and what he thinks in a rather straightforward sincerity that the public isn’t going to waste its time on” will surely rub the MFA poets the wrong way, but what you say may have some merit. I think by “imagination” you mean the ancient art of creating a world, making a stage, putting actors on it which depict something beyond our personal arena. I thought the following Lasky poem had merit, but upon reflection she does seem to be doing what you are saying—talking about herself, and though that final metaphor of the fish is a nice one, I don’t think metaphor alone can save the day.

        Tom

        Who to Tell

        Who to tell no one cares when no one cares
        No one takes the time to care for a monster

        I care for monsters
        But only because I am one

        I go in the dark house
        With the ghosts
        And the ghosts take my coat off
        The junkies

        The other man sits slumped in the chair
        Is he dead yet?
        I do not know

        I know that no one cares about anything
        I do know that the dressing room
        Is drab and grey

        And my pink patterned dress
        Looks ridiculous against something so truthful

        Wildness is not sadness
        The wilderness is not sad
        It is naked

        I am not
        If only because
        Decomposition is
        Not nudity

        Who to tell this?
        Who do I tell when no one cares

        I did not expect them to
        I did not expect them to care
        I am not mad

        I’m not mad any longer
        People eat tomatoes
        People eat bread

        I am a monster
        I eat life

        But only because I am losing mine
        Into a horrible void
        That for you is only an idea

        I once felt better about things
        I once felt better about things
        When the blankness was just an idea
        Like the way you still think of it

        Still I don’t think love is an idea
        I don’t think compassion is an idea
        I don’t think babies are born out of loneliness
        I don’t think the sea is cold

        I only think it is cool
        Cool cool sea
        Blue-green mystery
        Mysterious fish

        If only I had been born
        A fish
        Instead of a monster

        If only the water were my only home
        I would swim so quietly
        I would not say hello to you
        I would no longer be sad

        I would still be me though
        And I would not let you catch me
        For your dinner

        And when you wanted to eat me for your dinner
        I would disappear

      • R said,

        February 17, 2012 at 9:03 pm

        Yeah, every woman you’re jealous of is stupid and a bad poet, reptile.

        • thomasbrady said,

          February 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

          R,

          Lasky’s poem sounded good on a first read, but the more I look at it, the more problems I find.

          Don’t you find her use of “monster,” for instance, to be hyperbolic and self-indulgent?

          This is not a poetry MFA, where we have to liiiiiike poems so the students will give us their money.

          Tom

          • R said,

            February 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm

            Lasky, for me, is a hit-and-miss poet. A few of her poems are a bit cloying, diaristic, and self-indulgent, yes, and overall this sort of thing is not my cup of tea, but when she hits, she hits hard, and rings clear as a bell. It’s simple, but the music is fine. I do not want to punch her in the face. Good job!

            Some lines are funny as well. Oh, the sea is not ‘cold’ – the sea is ‘cool’! Very funny… I think she has a sense of humour about the naive hipster persona she’s working with.

            • thomasbrady said,

              February 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

              “i do not want to punch her in the face”

              really? who wants to punch her in the face?

              The sea “cool” instead of “cold…” Yea, that’s nice… I guess that’s funny…

              You’re a clever cat, R. Subtle, almost…

        • doubleyouaye said,

          February 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm

          Tell us why this is a good poem, R. Lasky essentially strings together a bunch of phrases hoping one of them is memorable.

          She writes to herself. This:

          “Who to tell this?
          Who to tell when no one cares

          I did not expect them to
          I did not expect them to care
          I am not mad

          I’m not mad any longer
          People eat tomatoes
          People eat bread

          I am a monster”

          is straight out of a diary.

          But I am jealous; I’m jealous I’m not delusional enough to write stuff like this and then hoodwink people into thinking it’s good.

          • R said,

            February 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

            It is Friday.
            Who am I? Rebecca Black?
            What is the meaning of life? I totally know.
            I’m actually lying. Gotcha.
            My stomach is empty.
            Anorexia. Ah,
            With much pomp and circumstance
            A sandwich enters my stomach.

            • David said,

              February 18, 2012 at 1:45 am

              Lasky’s Logic

              I deserve to be loved.
              My poetry is me on the page.
              My poetry deserves to be loved.

              Find the flaw in Lasky’s logic.

              The major premise is true.

              • R said,

                February 18, 2012 at 5:31 am

                David, it is much more complicated than that, and involves a lot of money and institutional support.

              • thomasbrady said,

                February 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm

                David, “my poetry is me on the page…” is that the missing middle? Tom

                • David said,

                  February 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

                  Tom,

                  Yes, I think that’s the flawed the minor premise. As Mary Shelley said about “Alastor”, her husband poured all of his emotion into that poem, yet by finding the purest conceivable form in which to embody its deep emotion, the poem was elevated far above merely being “me on the page”. Whereas the ironic, skittery, poem is devoid of heart, the sentimental poem wears its heart (artlessly) on its sleeve. Only the great poem conveys real feeling in a way that truly elevates the soul of the reader.

                  David

  5. The Old Man said,

    February 17, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Creative Writing can do irreparable harm to an English Department.
    Once people with creative writing degrees are hired in greater numbers to teach creative writing, a department becomes top heavy with instructors who are not adequately trained to teach introductory and advanced historical and critical literature courses but must do so because of department requiremens and limited resources. These same hires are then often asked to grade comprehensive exams. The end result is a weakened literature program.
    How can students hope to become creative writers when they are poorly prepared as students of canonical literature?

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you, The Old Man.

      An unpopular voice of reason.

      Tom

  6. February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Shelley and Byron did have a workshop – it was themselves and their fellow Romantics. Most of us are not so lucky to live near and have a relationship with such figures (which was primarily made possibly by England’s strict class system).

    While I’ve never done an MFA, it seems to me that an opportunity to study and engage with people serious about writing in a physical, geographically specific environment. And yes, I do believe structure can be of great benefit.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      Christopher,

      Point taken, but I would add that Shelley drank from Plato; Byron’s favorite poet was A. Pope; These poets never puffed or blurbed each other; they never competed for a teacher’s attention, or were blurbed by a teacher; their association was completely personal, not institutional.They were poets of the world, not poets feeding off of college.

      Tom

      • February 21, 2012 at 10:41 pm

        Then that’s a criticism of certain MFA programs that allow entrants who lack the proper grounding.

        Like any graduate program, it’s a flaw to allow someone in without the appropriate background.

        Just as a good program in physics shouldn’t be admitting people who don’t know math, so I would support criticizing an MFA program that took in people unversed in the canon (hoping not to set of a firestorm over what the canon is).

        I feel that there are ways to improve one’s writing and that every time I receive good criticism, it is something I can bring to my next project to improve it.

        If an MFA program can offer that experience, so be it. It’s not the ONLY way, but it’s A way to that goal.

        My own work (which is largely writing) is a solitary thing and the most professionally profitable experiences are those rare times when I can sit and learn from fellow professionals, share lessons and experiences and receive guidance from those who know more than I do. Those who know more than I are not necessarily more talented, but yes, by virtue of their experience, they have things to offer me that I might not learned have myself or might not have learned so soon in my career.

  7. David said,

    February 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    These poets never puffed or blurbed each other;

    Tom,

    Leigh Hunt “puffed and blurbed” Keats and Shelley in an article that played a pivotal role in Keats’ decision to turn from medicine to poetry. However, this was a one-off event and not an institutional practice.

    David

    • David said,

      February 21, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      Admittedly, “puff and blurb” is probably not an apt description of Hunt’s article. The salient point is that friendship and sociability was inherent in the Romantic movement and played a role in the publication of Romantic works. It would be interesting to compare and contrast it with the MFA “network” phenomenon.

  8. noochinator said,

    February 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

    FOR AN EARLY RETIREMENT

    Chinless and slouched, gray-faced, and slack of jaw,
    Here plods depressed Professor Peckinpaugh,
    Whose verse J. Donald Adams found “exciting.”
    This fitted him to teach Creative Writing.

    Donald Hall

    • R said,

      February 26, 2012 at 12:24 am

      McKuen, Rod 1933–
      McKuen, an American, writes verse and songs.

      [McKuen’s] poetry is by no means wrought with elegant variation. The preponderant theme is a neoplastic pleonasm rooted in his universal proposition to the world. He has “no special bed”; he gives himself “to those who offer love.” His desire is concise enough: those who see him “some weekend waiting” should “say hello.” [His] books are permeated with this prosaic, anything-but-artful commentary from the oldest teenager around. It is strange that he has become a hero to masses of young people who reportedly place their trust in “situational ethics.” McKuen’s situations rarely involve ethics….

      Whereas his major theme, garish sensuality, stirs an eddy in each volume, a gush of minor themes is slowed down by the McKuen touch and takes on the appearance of drifting debris. In a poem called “No,” he looks at the drug-using problem with an attitude less fierce than his title suggests. He admits that every once in a while he’ll “take a benny” but the metonymical “sugar cube” is “far too rich.”… In “Days of the Dancing,” he discusses love in a more generic sense than is his wont. In an apostrophe to Lewis Carroll’s Alice he unctuously tells her that “wonderland is still there waiting”; that “it didn’t die with Marilyn or Kennedy.”… Occasionally, he becomes the modern cynic, unartistically berating the quiz show which will be the setting for his cousin Max’s wedding. From the show Max will receive electric appliances, furnishings, “and a girl.”… Perhaps this conceit appeals to the “with-it” generation, but at best, the poem is limping, labored prose—not poetry. In some poems he momentarily scans the current political scene. Far-right conservatism upsets him—modern-day caskets are not made of “pine” but “bent John Birch.”… The plight of minority groups arouses his sympathy. Hills covered with “Indian paintbrush” recall the unjust treatment of the red man and the fact “that we can’t buy back the buffalo.”… He also attempts to be funny but the best that can be said of his humor is that is puerile and sometimes expressed in polysyllabic words…. The minor theme of religion is treated in a traditional way. God is a very personal Being Who delights in His creatures, creatures who are “beautiful in His mind’s eye.”… McKuen would like to return again to Nature, God’s monument…. It is astonishing that in the presentation of these themes he uses sticky, juvenile imagery characteristic of the high-school poet whose poems are rejected by the student newspaper….

      McKuen has put some of his poetry into song. In fact, he refers to himself specifically as a chansonnier: “I’m in sympathy,” he says, “with the French artists, their ability to be men enough to say how they feel….” And he does so. In the combination of his words and music, McKuen shows his forte; he seems to be an excellent songwriter, but songs are different from poems because they are not meant to stand alone. Another art form, music, is there to support them.

      But the question remains, why the commercial success with poetry of such poor quality? McKuen supplies an answer, “It just happens I’ve said something at a time when people need to be talked to. Husbands can’t talk to their wives or parents to their children.” But his explanation is as inadequate as his poetry, because man’s history is wrought with poor communication, yet few poets who have said so little have sold so much. Perhaps the answer can only be guessed at. Maybe great masses have latched on to his poetry because it satisfies a desire in them to feel intellectual. His allusions and imagery are so simple, so blandly elementary, that they can be easily understood; these thin thoughts spun in the “form” of poetry make the reader feel that he has probed intellectual depths when in fact he has only been fooled by a shadow of the real thing. Certainly symbol with depth is painfully lacking in McKuen’s poetry. Perhaps his followers are not applauding his poetry but themselves for recognizing a “form” and being able to digest it without realizing that what they are eating is as substantial as cotton candy…. Conceivably, the McKuen phenomenon is another case of the horizontal syndrome Paul Tillich speaks of, the syndrome of modern man’s grasping for a quantity rather than a quality, and this grasping is all the sadder because so many can no longer distinguish quantity from quality, can no longer recognize poetry except for the surface “form” of stringing words in tiny lines occasionally tipped with rhymes which may or may not make sense. Superimpose the realization that McKuen wistfully, even nostalgically daydreams the same dreams of many young people who, like the characters in his poetry, are substituting over-simplified and questionable answers for deep, unasked questions. McKuen says, “I’m not a poet; I’m a stringer of words.” To argue with his comment “I’m not a poet,” would be herculean; to accept “I’m a stringer of words” seems plausible enough.

      Andrew J. Hirt, “Rod McKuen: America’s Questionable Poet Laureate,” in Journal of Popular Culture, Spring, 1970, pp. 704-11.

      It is very embarrassing—like having to tell 80,000,000 avid readers that Richard Nixon has Dragon’s Breath—to reveal that Mr. McKuen is another nogoodnik, just right for those who, in mildly more literate days, used to go to church, heaven, bed, wherever, with Kahlil Gibran, Anne Morrow Lindburg, Walter Benton, Gloria Vanderbilt, and nameless denizens of the Beat Generation. Mr. McKuen is moody, vacuous, abstract, uninteresting, slow-eyed (sloe-eyed?) à la Robert Mitchum….

      I have such total doubt in McKuen’s powers of invention that I think the following—from a poem called ‘Did You Say The War Is Over?’—is a delicious error, compounded from author to lazy proofreader to careless linotyper:

      “The acne of perfection now must be
      to punch the teacher in the nose
      who gave you F instead of D.”
      “The acne of perfection”—terrible in any context, but surprising none the less in the sad, minimal world of Rod and his eager know-nothing millions.

      Jonathan Williams, in Parnassus, Fall/ Winter, 1972, pp. 98-9.

      It’s a good thing, the way high-school students read Rod McKuen. Of course he can’t write a decent line; it’s his narcissism that turns people on. But if a hundred people get thrills from Rod McKuen when they are 15, twelve of them will read William Blake when they are 20. He gets them started.

      Donald Hall, in American Poetry Review, May/June, 1973, p. 56.

  9. February 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    […] Why creative writing classes are useless. […]

  10. Z said,

    February 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Yes … I don’t know, I think part of the point of creative writing classes is to find yet one more way to get students to practice spelling, punctuation, etc. … and that’s all. These things were taught in K-12 at one time and there were extracurricular magazines with student poems and so on, for fun.

    Now, this seems to go on at the graduate level. I object to it because of having to read comprehensive examinations which are indeed spelled right but don’t have functional English grammar (let alone graduate level content) – for which the excuse is made that this person is “creative.”

  11. February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    […] early 20th century and the revolutionaries had established their own ideals as the new orthodoxy. A recent blog post, however, has put this in an entirely new light for […]

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      voxcorvegis,

      Loved your blog post!!!

      Hope everyone reads it!!!

      Tom

  12. Contrarian said,

    December 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    […] recent post on teaching Creative Writing (his bottom line: one can’t) is typical of his approach. His fundamentalist tenets are all on […]

  13. thomasbrady said,

    December 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Joseph Hutchison, the “Contrarian” finds me too anti-Writing Program, horrified at my idea that “solitary reading and writing” is the best way to become an accomplished writer. Joseph knows the world is our Workshop; we are social animals, and how can I and Joseph, and everyone, not agree? Fie on contrariness. I never said “solitary reading and writing” is the only thing we need to do; I would recommend a 3 martini lunch with Thomas Brady. Sure, Byron and Shelley knew each other, but does one really think that Shelley looked over Byron’s shoulder while the latter was composing? I question Writing Programs—and this somehow translates into my saying Bryon and Shelley cannot be friends!! Of course they can be friends. That’s my point. The friendship between Byron and Shelley is as good as any writing program could possibly be—or not. Joseph writes:

    “Until being accepted into the MFA program, my influences were distinctly and narrowly anglo-American: Keats, Coleridge, Robinson, Frost, Bly, Snyder, Ginsberg, Creeley (although I had stumbled on François Villon). Frankly, I was flailing. Then, the summer I received my acceptance from UBC, I wrote to ask if there was anything I should read before I showed up on campus. They responded with a six-legal-page single-spaced list of works, classic to contemporary, mostly European, perhaps only 20 percent of them written originally in English. Would I have discovered the brilliance of Seferis, Parra, Paz, Rimbaud, Nowlan, Valéry, Hikmet, Machado, Vallejo, Cavafy and so many others in my twenties had I not encountered them on that list? I doubt it.”

    Really? One cannot get a list of interesting authors to read unless it is sent to them by the admissions office of a college? Are we to take this seriously?

    Joseph, and I know it is too late for this advice, but forget that list. Just read Byron. Really study him. And use a quill. That way you’ll be a better writer—and a true contrarian.


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