May 12, 2005

"First, Don't Write Poetry..."

A student at the College of New Jersey has unearthed an 1888 school newspaper interview with Walt Whitman, who gave three bits of advice:

"First, don't write poetry; second ditto; third ditto."

He didn't say to avoid writing altogether; he encouraged learning the craft of writing in every way, including "condensation". I'm guess that's a directive to edit, and when you think you've edited enough, edit some more. Good advice for word-hemorrhagers like me.

He did say to learn the printing business if you were going to write, presumably so you could self-publish if your content was inspired enough to challenge some views.

Wonder what he would have thought of blogging.

Article at


At 7:35 PM, Blogger Adam said...

Most of the published poets I've spoken with have said they've felt really irrelevant, culturally, right now. I wonder if Whitman felt similar woes. It makes me wonder a lot about what is going on in the field (my guess would be the language poets are mostly responsible) for the lack of interest in poetry but the huge meat market that prose-books have become. Perhaps poetry has always been something that has been on the margins of culture, appealing primarily to the collegiate and maybe teenagers who are depressed and going through a phase.

On blogs: a huge amount of contemporary poets are using them. My professor K. Silem Mohammad (who was anthologized in Best American Poetry 2004) has two blogs, one for essays and personal stories and one strictly for his poetry. He'd lectured in classes encouraging people interested in writing--be it poetry or otherwise--to blog and mix with communities that care deeply about improving their writing.

With the availability of blogs and information comes a lot of garbage, but I think people of discerning taste--especially students--are benefitting a lot from it. I know I am.

Nice blog, by the way. :)

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

Thanks for the compliment, Adam.

And I saw your blog too, congratulations on your critic column.

I started to talk about blogging as self-publishing but I'm posting about it separately instead...


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