Monday, September 25, 2006

Stegner Poetry: Writing Samples

David Roderick is stopping by this week to answer some poetry questions from readers. David's new book is titled Blue Colonial.

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Dear David,
This is less an MFA question and more a Stegner question; I hope you don't mind. When you were choosing your manuscript of poems for your Stegner Fellowship application, what was your process--did you intentionally organize them around a theme of any kind, did you simply rank the best poems you had and line them up, was there a super secret potion you sprinkled on the packet that allowed them be read with kind and fresh eyes?

Any advise thankfully appreciated,

Amidst Missed Manuscripts

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Dear Amidst Missed Manuscripts,

Nope... I don't mind at all. Your question is a good one, and it's not nearly as specific as it seems on the surface. Really you're asking the same question every writer asks when putting together a manuscript for a contest, fellowship, or degree program. What do the judges/readers want to see? Should I sell myself (and my work) in a particular way? Should I project a certain aesthetic? (e.g. Since one of the judges once wrote a book of odes to Arnold Schwarzenegger, should I submit my crown of sonnets about weightlifting?)

I think it's dangerous to think this way about your manuscript submission because you can really only guess what the readers/judges will like. There's no way to know. Or... to be more specific about the matter, what if that judge who wrote the odes to Schwarzenegger is sick of The Governator and weightlifting and any poem that mentions flexing triceps? Your crown of sonnets, no matter how well-executed, would be doomed.

My advice to you is simple. Send your best work. That's what I remember doing. The readers at Stanford and elsewhere are looking at hundreds (and in some case thousands) of manuscripts. What impresses them more than anything is polished, mature writing. At Stanford I encountered poets from across the aesthetic spectrum... from experimental poets to poets who only write in strict forms. What all the poets had in common was a strong sense of purpose, confidence, and a fully-realized sense of self.

So special tricks or potions are necessary. Gather 10-15 pages of your best work, fill out the application form, write a check, and drop the whole sucker into the mail. Good luck to you.

David

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