Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Poetry Life, with Thanks to Richard Price

At the first Reading Poetry Festival in June, Richard Price showed two flowcharts of a poet's life. One was a straightforward progression: magazine publication, small press book, possibly larger press book later on. There were perhaps five steps in all. Then Richard showed what a poet's life really looks like, with many 'steps' and arrows in every direction. Writing poems and publishing books became only two among many activities. Poets also give readings, collaborate with artists, publish pamphlets and broadsheets (though we could use many more of the latter in the UK), start their own magazines and presses, translate other poets' work, teach seminars and workshops, form workshops with other poets, create communities of exchange, friendship, love. I'm only touching on part of the breadth that Richard elaborated so well in the session, that makes me excited to think about the life I live. 

On another note, I also think this larger literary life is why American and British students pursue MFA and MA degrees in creative writing while knowing they may never have careers as writers per se. It's worth pursuing the degree for the sake of taking one's writing to a greater strength, for the sake of another year or two's deeper immersion in the world of writing, teaching and publishing. Or have my earnestness and idealism gotten the better of me? 


  1. Anonymous10:17 am

    I'd like to have been at Richard's session, I like the sound of the 'flowcharts'! I like your positive take on MA creative writing degrees, nothing wrong with a little idealism! So often these courses take a battering, but actually just being able to immerse oneself in writing for a year or so, and enjoy the fruits of regular writing in a community of likeminds, sounds like a wonderful opportunity to me, especially if the students go into it with open eyes and enjoy the process as much as the promise of publication & success.

    1. Thanks for your post! I suppose the catch is in your last sentence--'if the students go into it with open eyes'. I've known some students who entered an MA or MFA programme in creative writing thinking that not long after they'd be able to teach in such a programme themselves, and that only happens for a small minority. If, however, they pursue the degree for the sake of improving their writing and consequently their chances for publication, I think students are likely to be much more satisfied. So I hope!