The Sideshow Must Go On

Big Tent PoetryI am pleased to announce a promising new community website for poets and poetry lovers called Big Tent Poetry. According to the history section of the site, “The founders of Big Tent Poetry became acquainted in 2006 through the popular prompt site Poetry Thursday and, from 2007 to 2010, were members of the creative team that produced Read Write Poem (RWP).” I look forward to contributing my thoughts as a “sideshow barker” and watching this web site’s progress.

I also have to admit I had no idea that writing prompt websites have been around since 2006. Nor did I realize the popularity of responding to writing prompts online until I contributed a prompt to RWP for National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo to the initiated.) I had been swapping prompts by email once per month with a few fellow poets from my MFA program, and sent in my most recent concoction at one of the RWP site organizers’ request. That prompt, and every other prompt this month, received about two hundred responses — mostly poems! Witnessing this frenzy of writing, reading, and critiquing caused me to question some of my previous remarks about where poetry might be headed in the twenty-first century.

And so, I will watch with interest as poets and poetry lovers find new ways to reach out and connect. Though poetry may indeed be a sideshow in this media-dominated era, sites like RWP and Big Tent Poetry prove that it remains an act that many still want to get in to. Perhaps, to do so, we must be willing to redefine words like “reader” and “audience,” even as social networking websites have redefined the concept of “friend.” Or perhaps, amid all the fire juggling and sequined vaulting online, the opportunity remains, under a sufficiently large and encompassing tent, for words to transcend the horn-toots and clown cars of entertainment, reaching up into the rafters, to where the trapeze artists of language still make art.

“Should I Do An MFA?” (and Farewell, Read Write Poem)

It saddens me to report that, with the departure of the founder, and with the site’s editorial, maintenance, and technical needs having grown beyond the capabilities for a new all-volunteer team to take it on, the excellent poetry social networking website Read Write Poem will close its doors May 1st. It has been a pleasure writing a series of poetry advice column editorials for the site, and getting to know its thousand-plus smart, sensitive, poetry-loving members.

While my first two pieces, on how to learn from rejection and how to be a poet every day, will remain archived on the site, my latest response to a member question, originally slated for mid-May, will now no longer show up on the site. So, in honor of the first day of the last month of this remarkable community’s existence, in honor of the first day of National Poetry Month, and in honor of Read Write Poem member Julie’s question, I am publishing my final column in this series here, on my own website.


At work, when I interview candidates for an open position, I always ask what it was like at their previous job. I am amazed at how many interviewees animatedly complain. It is a warning sign to me that, if I hire them, they will likely soon be doing the same about my company. And so, though it seems Socratic, I am compelled to respond, whenever fellow writers ask me if they ought to do an MFA, with more questions, such as: How is it going in your current writing workshops? What is the conversation like between you and your trusted peers, when they give you feedback? Who are your current mentors (including those you learn from solely through their published work)? What are you working on improving about your writing life? Whom do you emulate? What do you absolutely know you still need to learn?

Learning to write well is, to me, a lifelong process of self-education. Just as I consider myself responsible for looking after my health, and enlist medical professionals to that end, likewise I am the one in charge of educating myself as a writer. My attitude, therefore, played a critical part in making my MFA two of the most rich and fulfilling years of my writerly life so far.

Continue reading…

How to be a Poet Every Day

While poetry is a product, being a poet is, to me, a worthwhile and lifelong pursuit. In my latest column for Read Write Poem, I dig beneath the question of writing daily, to answer how one can, in fact, engage life as a poet every day.

Some of the tactics may surprise you. Would you believe that actually limiting your writing time to shorter bursts can make you more prolific? Or that getting organized might make you more creative?

Check out this month’s Poetry Advice Column for more unusual approaches that just might help you live a bit more like a poet every day.

“What Should You Learn From Rejection Letters?”

The first article in my new series for Read Write Poem is now available, tackling the painful and often taboo topic of rejection letters head-on. It’s not something poets tend to admit to receiving, let alone talk about with their peers.

Yet rejection is a natural and necessary (albeit sometimes painful) part of the writing business. Asking what you can get out of the experience is just plain smart. So, in that spirit, I have done my best to serve up fairly simple, practical advice with a dash of humor and a healthy side of encouragement.

I hope you enjoy it!