Read to Write
When I was a college student, my first creative writing teacher told the class that there were two kinds of writers: those who wanted to write and those who wanted to have written. He may not have been the first person to say that, but it’s still one of his many sayings that resonates with me now, 25 years later.
The reason, you see, is because I want to be both—the task, the craft of writing is even more of a thrill for me now than it was then. Maybe that’s because I know a little bit more of what I’m doing now, but also because I have a much deeper well to draw from than I did when I was in my 20s. At the same time, I also enjoy the work I’ve done—finishing it, sharing it, making it part of the conversation and community. That’s a privilege for which I’m very grateful.
But I’d like to take my old teacher’s advice a step further. I like to think that there are writers who want to read and writers who like to be read. Again—strive to be both. You see, the problem I run into sometimes with newer writers is that they put much more energy into writing than they put into reading. (The same goes for listening at poetry readings—it amazes me how often I notice people show up just for the open reading period and don’t pay attention to the main reader.) Writing isn’t the kind of talent that just improves on its own the more you do it, like, say, running. You get better at running simply by running more (I may be wrong about the running thing, since I’m pretty miserable at that.) For writers to grow they need to be gluttonous and aggressive readers—and they need to love doing it. Writers need to dig though the works they love to discover what makes them taste good—unwrapping the poems as they digest them (see, I’m a lot better at the eating metaphors than the running ones). Part of every class session I lead at Musehouse is a reading of great poems, or at least poems I think are great, so I can share some of the passion I have for them, but to also look for the elements that make those poems work, to study their craft and ingredients.
I sometimes run into writers who say they don’t read other poetry because they don’t want to be influenced by others. I have little tolerance for that point of view.
So then, what to read? You’re in luck because in some ways poetry is thriving today. There are more literary journals, both online and off, then ever before, so start there. Literary journals are the fuses that keep our literary communities lit up. Reading groups, workshops, lectures, friendships are all things that grow out of and are supported by literary journals. Locally, we’re lucky enough to have access to several strong publications, and those pubs are also very active in the local community. Supporting those publications is one of the easiest ways you discover new writers.
Anyway—that was a long way of saying—read to write and write to be read–another saying of my old teacher. I should write all those down before I forget them.
—Grant Clauser, www.poetcore.com
Grant Clauser holds an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University where he was the 1993 Richard Devine Fellow. He is a magazine and web editor and has taught writing at area colleges. His poems have appeared in various journals including The Literary Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Heartland Review, and others. He was selected by Robert Bly to be the 2010 Montgomery County Poet Laureate. Through the MCPL program, he started a monthly workshop, the Montco Workshop in Lansdale.
Grant’s next Beginning and Intermediate Poetry Writing at Musehouse begins April 23. Registration information at http://www.musehousecenter.com or call 267-331-9552.