Category: Poets & Writers

Read like your work depends on it. It does.

“Poetry should be in the middle of the civic discussion of what’s going on in this country.”

Reginald Dwayne Betts, in “Name a Song,” a conversation with Mahogany L. Browne in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

Rigoberto González helped me understand that my success as a writer would hinge on my success as a reader. I’ve translated that advice into a ratio. For every poem or page I write, I try to read three times as much work by other people. I don’t have a ledger or anything but you get the idea.

“As I accumulated more experience of the world, I sometimes found I had to explain myself and my home to others, putting a complicated place onto maps where previously there’d been almost nothing at all. I became interested in the role of telling about a place, in talking back from the periphery to a more central cultural power, and in questions about who gets to make art and from what. The book sprang in part from a desire to sustain and express fascination for overlooked spaces and in part from an obsession with the complicated way we wed the power of storytelling to ourselves, our identities, and our communities.”

Krista Eastman, in “The New Nonfiction 2019″ in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine

We are taught, especially in MFA culture, to slog through writing we don’t necessarily feel because it’s a good exercise in reading and expanding our horizons. But there’s way too much stuff out there to be moved by and to enjoy instead of wasting time with a backlog of books you loathe. It’s important to challenge yourself and to branch out, but life’s too short and there aren’t enough hours in the day for that kind of pain.

There are times I find myself unable to write: not a block but a stasis. I need to be shook and shunted away from general predictability. Sometimes it works to have a slight ringing in my ears….In experimental music there is an engagement somewhere between intuitive and intellectual, or maybe it is both impulses sparking against one another….I often write during performances…I’ve written the better part of stories, even whole novel scenes. With each word I am writing through the rare climate of the room, sharper and more exact than the best day at my desk.

“For my novel, there was a lot of world-building, during which the story evolved. There comes a point for me with any kind of research, be it historical or technical or about other cultures, when I have to let go and trust that I’ve sufficiently internalized what I need to know such that the relevant details will organically find their way into my scenes. It’s like taking the tea bag out of the water when it’s steeped just the right amount. Then it’s time to write.”

Lisa Gornick, in conversation with Christina Baker Kline in “Historical Fiction: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing About Other Eras” in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

The late Dasa Drndic…said to me: ‘Fuck story.’ She meant, forget what you think you want to say. Forget what you know. Look at form, find the voice, let it roam freely and follow it. It will tell you the narrative.

Taking in different forms of art and looking at them critically opens my mind up to different possibilities in my poetry. (Museums are great for that too.) But simply reading good writing helps most of all….I’ll also play a bit of musical chairs if I’m stuck in the writing, moving from one seat to another, one room to another, or I’ll leave the apartment altogether for a change of scenery. I’ll read my lines aloud to see if the sounds and rhythms can carry me forward.

“Maybe every debut book is a mystery to its author—maybe every book after that is too. Writing tends to be messy and ongoing work, tracking as it does alongside life. It’s not finite, so maybe there is something inherently alien to writers about ‘finished’ products. The book is done, bound, closed—I can’t pry it back open and recover its secrets. I put them in there, between the covers, so they would be safe in there, perhaps even from me.”

Jayson Greene, in “The New Nonfiction 2019″ in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine