A friend of mine completed a prestigious and expensive MFA program here in the NYC a few years ago. I had the opportunity to sit with her a few months ago and she gave me the greatest advice I have ever received so far.
I asked her did she feel the MFA was beneficial to her career as a writer. After an incredibly long pause, she told me her best learning experience was when she hired an editor. Every 2 weeks they met and he tore what she wrote to pieces. He showed her what worked, what didn’t and why etc. She told me it became like an apprenticeship after some time. She liked the MFA but now paying back the student loans with a kid and a bullshit job, she wonders about how practical the MFA was for her.
So What I did
I spent a while sending in poems to various magazines, and getting rejected. At some point the rejection letters got more and more positive. I got some great feedback and it was then that I decided to seek the help of a professional. It was my hope he/she could open my eyes to what I wasn’t seeing. If I invested so much of my time already, investing some money wouldn’t hurt. I believe what it comes down to is how much do you want something.
For me I had started writing off and on around 16. Grounding myself in the technical aspects of poetry was of the utmost importance. I looked at poetry like Michael Jordan looked at basketball when he was a young man. It was something he wanted to do at the highest level. So he grounded himself in the game. He studied tapes, ran and reran drills, worked out etc. I feel about understanding meter, assonance, alliteration etc. Understanding how to use them is the crux of this craft of verse. I read and studied a lot of poets. I analyzed their style, tried to discern how they were able to achieve some of things that made me like their work. So that how it went for about a good few years.
Working with a Mentor/Professional in the Field
This experience has been great for me. There was so much I was able to learn and pick up on. It would have taken me a few years of fumbling in the dark to be able to see with that level of subtlety. I feel that working with someone like this is an accelerant for one’s skills. When I think back on it I see why so many artists worked/drank/chilled together. I have tried to be part of writing groups in the past, but it didn’t work for me. I’m hoping maybe the end of this year to finally have something ready to publish.
I feel more than anything the rejection letters help really force me to pay closer and closer attention to the subtleties. Anyways, I rarely share my wrings on the blog, especially the better stuff. Hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to.