Poet John Guzlowski offers his writing “words of wisdom,” which as he reports, he worked up “years ago when I was doing a workshop with some students at Western Kentucky University. The teacher was Mary Ellen Miller, a Kentucky writer.”
Read this, then get to work on your jokes about French-speaking mules!
Advice to Mary Ellen Miller's Poetry Writing Class
First, listen carefully to the advice of older poets, like me.
Some of what they say will be the most important thing
you'll hear about poetry. Some of what they say
will be useless. How can you tell the difference?
You can't right now, but you will in five or ten years.
Second, find someone who believes in your poetry,
a wife, a lover, a friend, and believe what they say
about your poetry, the good and the bad both,
and keep writing, writing all the time, writing emails,
letters, notes on the backs of books, term papers
about Dostoevsky and the rise of realism, write jokes
about mules that speak only French and teachers
who wear red paisley ties and wide-brimmed straw hats,
and writing like this, you'll find you're writing poems,
all the time, everyday, everywhere you're writing poems.
Third, write a poem everyday, and if you can't write one
everyday write one every other day, and if you can't do that
write one every third day, and if you can't do that
write one when the muse hits you—when two words
explode in your head, appearing out of nowhere.
Whatever you're doing when that explosion hits,
stop, and write down the sound of that explosion
because if you wait 'til later, it's lost--absolutely.
Fourth, find a muse. I'm not kidding. Mine is a mother
of two who died in the snow outside of Stalingrad,
shot in the forehead by a German foot soldier
from a farming village in Bavaria. She comes to me
when I'm busy grading papers or talking with friends
and she begs me to remember her children, all the children.
What will this muse do for you? Ask her, she'll tell you.
~~John Z. Guzlowski