The end of the semester: a farewell address [by DL]

DL DIAWorking with you has been a pleasure from start to finish. I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts:

— You can do anything. When planning your future, do not limit yourself to the conventional career paths and to academic jobs dependent on advanced degrees. You can combine anything with poetry; you can be a poet and also a librarian, an advertising copy-writer, a corporate executive, a lawyer, a doctor, a computer specialist, a publisher, an arts administrator, or a journalist.

— Keep trying new things in your poetry. And keep doing the same tried and true things. If you can, write every day, even if it is only a few sentences in a notebook. Collaborate with friends on poems and projects. If you’re in a fallow period, accept it; sometimes the brain needs time to absorb new experiences. If truly blocked, you can break it by assigning yourself a prompt that has worked for you (like a translation from a language you don’t understand, or an abecedarius, or a poem in imitation of A. R. Ammons). Sometimes a simple reversal of course is all you need to do; if you’ve been writing present-tense, first-person point of view poems, see what happens when you adopt a third-person POV and the past tense.

— Read poetry. Be generous, but stick to your own lights. This may require some effort at diplomacy. But remember that you don’t have to love a person’s poetry in order to be courteous to and supportive of that person. Let posterity decide whose work will endure. We won’t be around anyway. Remember that another person’s success does nothing to diminish your own achievement. Don’t get hung up on prizes. They’re great to get; prestige is nice, money is nice; but you should spend your time on your writing, your reading, your friendships, and not on angling to get a lucrative fellowship. There will come a time when someone else will win the award you deserved, or the job you coveted, or the publication you were banking on. It might even be the person sitting next to you right now. And you will feel envy, you will feel resentment — you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. But you cannot afford to give in to these feelings, because envy and resentment, if allowed to fester, can turn easily into bitterness and even spite, and these things are poison to a writer. To ward them off, you will need to go deeper into yourself, into your heart, into the sources of your poetry.

Vesper_Cocktail— Your poems don’t have to change the world. They just have to give pleasure. Don’t feel you need to make sense all the time. Nor should you shy away from sentiment and feeling.

— Figure out what you need from the world in order to continue as a poet. Sometimes all you need is one magazine editor who believes in your work.

— Pay no attention to hostile reviewers. Many of them are classic bullies, sadists, who need know nothing about a subject to write about it. And when it is your turn to write about others, resist the impulse to give pain – it’s not good for your soul. And you do have a soul – otherwise you would never have committed yourself to the vocation of a poet.

— When you read your poems aloud, do so with conviction. Read slowly and clearly. Read one poem fewer than the time allowed. Rehearse so you don’t stumble over your own words, the mark of an amateur or an academic.

— L’chaim!

— DL   from the archive; first posted 2008


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