One of the most exciting things about starting each semester as a Poetry MFA student at Columbia has been discovering my reading lists for my classes. It’s kind of a nerdy thing, I guess, to be excited about your eventual homework, but I have a hard time discovering new poets to read if all I’m doing is reading the poetry I already enjoy from the publishers I already know about. This semester brought nearly a dozen new books to my shelf, some by familiar poets, some by those whose name I knew but poetry I hadn’t read, and some by poets who were wholly new to me.
People talk a lot about how important it is to have a community of writers, that that’s one of the greatest advantages of an MFA program, and while that’s true, I think that at least part of that advantage comes from having people shove books into your hands and say “here, read this.” Multiple times I’ve had a member of my cohort say “you need to read this book if you liked what we read in class,” and whether they end up being right about my liking their recommendation, it exposes me to new writing I likely would not have discovered without them.
The upside is that I’m constantly reading. The downside is, as you might imagine, that I am constantly reading.
Like how every music lover eventually discovers that there will be great songs from incredible bands that they will never get a chance to listen to, so too is it with all kinds of media. Even if I’m reading on the train, reading in line at Chipotle, reading unassigned books when I should probably be reading for my classes, I’ll still miss out on great poetry that I would likely have loved. But I take solace in the fact that grad school has me reading a lot, and it has me reading very broadly (only one of the dozen books I’m reading this semester was already on my radar).
It lets me pull inspiration from more places, to steal ideas and techniques from other poets and adapt them for my writing, and to have a better understanding of someone else’s writing when they say “oh, I like [insert writer here].” It’s a lot of work always having my nose in a book, but it’s one of the best parts of studying toward my MFA.