The Mysterious Distinctive Voice in Poetry

For years I read the same thing: editors wanted new and distinctive voices. I always figured this was probably just shorthand for “good,” for whatever technical and subject-matter choices struck readers as appealing.
OK: I was wrong. I get it now.

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Writing Across Genres

The theory goes like this: writing is hard enough without trying to write in more than one genre.

In other words, if you want to excel at any kind of writing, you are better off focusing your efforts on one type. The skills required to be a poet, after all, are not the same as those required to be a short-story writer or a novelist. Flitting from genre to genre probably ensures that you never get very good at any of them.

These are not unreasonable arguments.

Still, I disagree with them.

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On Teaching Poetry Writing

There is a popular perception that poetry writing classes are a breeze both for students and  professors.

Nope. Students often find the classes highly challenging, and I almost always find teaching creative writing far more difficult than teaching any other kind of class.


If I tell my students that to write a good poem requires x, y, and z, and that their draft lacks one or more of those elements, some portion of the students will mightily resent it.

I get that. I really do. A poem can feel very personal, so an “attack” on the poem can seem like an attack on the person.

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Small Mysteries in Fiction

We have all read novels or short stories that encourage us to turn the pages to find the answers to large-scale mysteries. In Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, for example, we keep reading to discover the details surrounding Lydia’s death. How do we know when the novel is over? Because we know what…

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The Limits of Scenes

A case can be made that films have a lot of advantages over novels and short stories. The moment the screen lights up, the world comes vividly alive. Everything is right there before our eyes. The action is viscerally immediate. How can the written word compete with that? Well, it does. The works that have…

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The Storytelling Thesis

Short stories and essays, many believe, are nothing alike. And there are good reasons to believe this. Surely it follows, then, that thinking about a short story in the same way as we think about an essay is unhelpful. The exact opposite has the case for me. For decades in the college classroom, I taught…

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Ending Writer’s Block

What has worked for me? I write something every day. No excuses. Even if I have only fifteen minutes, I write what I can in that time, often as quickly as possible, accumulating words on a page. Why does this help? Writing doesn’t become a choice. I don’t ask myself: Should I write today? Am I feeling inspired? Do I have a good enough idea? No. I write to find good ideas, to find inspiration, to find what surprises me on the page.

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