After “Letters to a Young Poet”

In starting to blog as a concerted effort, I considered for some time the rigors and restraints of academic publication habits and how blogging basically goes against them. Or it is adjacent to publishing tradition, I can’t tell.

To get a dream teaching job (which I still want) of leading college workshops and offering craft & theory courses on writing that most interests me and my students, the mode tends toward publishing with established, in print companies, universities and organizations.

Fine and good. I would love to have work among esteemed company. I just don’t want my writing to solely be focused on getting published. Period.

I’m not throwing shade, just saying. There is so much opportunity to connect and share that blogging and openly offering what I do seems like the only sincere way to do this thing.

One of the first things I would bring to my creative writing students is the first letter in Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.” There’s a lot of good advice in the collection of his letters, but I find this one particularly important:

You ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now… I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now. No one can advise you, no one.

Rainer Maria Rilke

As I enter into the rest of my life, following M.F.A. study, I feel like I am starting over again. I love the freedom in that. I can write and read whatever I want. I could give it all up, if that would really make me happy. If publishing the old-fashioned way isn’t working, then I don’t have to try to make it work.

In letting go for a while, I understood that I don’t want to give it up altogether. I do want to publish. I do want to connect with publishers and creatives. I do want to get that jay O be.

I just have to be sure that I stay true to what I love, the processes by which the compulsion to write emerges and where it shows.

It doesn’t happen in a classroom, and it hasn’t happened after an hour plus teaching an essay composition class. It happens in the dark, where the world diminishes in the pull of a solitary need to speak. Where no one is listening and that’s okay. It happens where I am able to let go of myself and the things I think or believe or wish to be important.

Speak about what? Who tf knows? But to speak and to do it with a singular concern to do it earnestly (Merwin says adverbs are the worst, but I like them, so to hell with it).

I’d love to have a poem appear in the New Yorker or be featured on Poets.org. Maybe someday that will happen. For now, though, I’m going to write. Plain and simple.

I might stutter out into a worthless corner of the blogosphere with an “artist site” that has so many frayed edges consisting in part of blog posts, top ten lists and lame af calls to action, but who cares?

Do I dare disturb the universe? Absolutely.

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