Q. How has the Drew MFA program helped you with your writing?
A. Well, the faculty are world-renowned. But that would be beside the point, if we were just talking about their fame. These poets are renowned as masters of their craft, writers who take care to make art. The same is true of their teaching. They taught me to treat my craft, my talent, and my study with seriousness. But to never take myself too seriously. They challenged me, but challenged me as they challenged themselves. In this way, Drew is a true writing community. I graduated with a world of knowledge, and more—with world-class role models. I learned just what kind of poet I wanted to be.
Q. How did you manage to balance writing with the rest of your life while pursuing an MFA and afterwards?
A. In the end, you just do it. I was talking to someone the other day who is thinking of earning his MFA, and he said he thought low-residency programs were better because you continue to live your actual life while you learn. You still go to the corner grocery. You still punch the clock. I tend to like poems that come from within a grounded, lived life. I mean, you’re going to punch the clock sooner or later. Devotion to poetry doesn’t come from not having to. It comes from loving something greater than yourself. Discipline, soon to follow.
Q. Describe one of your favorite Drew experiences.
A. Hearing Jean Valentine read from Lucy before the chapbook was published. I’d never heard anything like it. I haven’t since.
Oh! And hearing Gerald Stern sing “Fly Me to the Moon” into absolutely every mic he passed.
Q. Did you stay connected to the Drew MFA community after graduation?
A. Sure. We all do. We celebrate successes, promote opportunities, read for each other, write recommendations, reviews, interviews…. The alumni are organized and provide important institutional support. Newsletters. Facebook. Residency reunions. Conference reimbursement. AWP. But the truth is all that comes out of a more grassroots thing called ‘liking each other.’ Drew’s mentors challenge you, but do so while also encouraging a non-competitive environment. It makes all the difference when you’re in the workshop. And also when you leave it.
Q. Describe your personal writing process.
A. Jerry said in a lecture once that ‘writers are readers who occasionally write.’ After I heard him say that, I realized my priorities were mixed up. So, I read. A lot. Last year I read a poetry book a day. That was good.
Now, having said that, I do try to write every day. And I try to write at the same time every day. This probably sounds like ritual voodoo. But we’ve known for a while that the brain continues to process as we sleep. REM cycles stabilize information and memories that might otherwise be scattered, and in it our minds look for patterns. Very helpful if you are, say, Edison napping in his laboratory. Or Joe Poet trying to figure out the right combination for a metaphor.
Q. Describe the experience of seeing your work in print.
A. Shamefully thrilling.