The Apprentice Poet

I am breaking for a moment from my usual practice of posting snippets of my writing here. I am reading ‘The Art of Fiction No. 231′ in the Paris Review. My younger daughter rather nicely gave me a subscription as a gift. This episode of their long standing series on fiction, poetry and so on, interviews Jay McInerney, a novelist. He, however, started his writing career aiming to be a poet, to the despair as he writes, of both his father and his grandfather. Poetry was not a manly occupation nor was it remunerative enough. He started his apprenticeship by reading Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and so on. When he went to College he began to read novels as part of his education and that was when he decided he would go in that direction.

What I found interesting was that writers of any type seem often to come to their craft through school, especially university. Not only that, often they go to writing schools such as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, or even one at my current academic home, the University of Guelph/Humber in Canada. This seems all so peculiar to me. In High School I was introduced to poetry, but most of it I found turgid (except ee cummings). Oddly, I came at poetry through reading Catullus in Latin class. Somehow I discovered Leonard Cohen too, who was not on the curriculum. But other than that i began writing:  essays, plays, poetry because I had a compulsion to write. I discovered this compulsion in my last year of elementary school. There the school principal,  a tall, impossibly thin Englishman named Norton Mansfield held forth every Tuesday morning guiding us through English literature. We read a novel, short stories, poetry and he insisted we all try an essay. I found once started I have never been able to stop. My apprenticeship was through writing not reading or studying other writers. I did, of course, read others as I was forced in school. But I began writing at the age of 13 and have never stopped.  Maybe that’s why I make so little money at it…

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