Columbia College Poetry Dispatch: Your Best Work

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At the end of the day, you come to a poetry program to improve your work. My experience so far with graduate school has been that this is a wonderful environment to make that a reality. That said, you have to decide where you’re going to put your efforts: what you’re going to read, what kinds of experiments you want to do, and what your overall strategy is going to be. The professor I have for workshop right now discourages projects in the first year, but that doesn’t mean you end up totally rudderless.

One of the things I’ve ended up doing is reading the collected letters of Hart Crane. Crane’s White Buildings is the first book of poetry I ever bought outside of anthologies. His poetry has been very important in my own development. Reading these letters has been absolutely incredible. Seeing the workings of his mind at such a young age (the letters start when Crane is a teenager) has been a real treat. Some of his observations have been, as well. For instance, he totally called Wallace Stevens being amazing long before he had gained a literary reputation.

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I started reading these letters at the behest of two of my professors. I had gone to them asking about revision and getting my work to that next level. One of the things we talked about was writing for an audience. Now I’m reading these letters, and I am beginning to feel a difference.

What’s the point of all this? Here: the faculty in this and any program can provide you with advice informed by years of success in the field, but at the end of the day it’s up to you. If you aren’t taking personal responsibility for getting your art to a higher place, if you are doing the assignments and that’s it, you’re cheating yourself.

Maybe I write that as much for myself as for you, the audience. Maybe I need to go back to reading those letters. I think, for once, I’ve managed to say something I mean.