Exercises to help your students find inspiration for their work.

In the profile of Lee Martin by Amos Magliocco, “Where the Real World Lies” (Poets & Writers Magazine, page 35), Martin speaks of looking at old family photos, specifically those that feature his father, who lost both of his hands in a tractor accident. Martin says, “I want to tell my father about that moment in the cornfield. ‘Shut off the tractor,’ I want to tell him, but, of course, I can’t.” Look at family photos of your own, choosing one that captures a person to whom you would like to speak. Try drafting a poem or story in which you talk across time, distance, and memory, to communicate with this person.

The profile of Valzhyna Mort (page 29) “You Cannot Tell This to Anybody” by Kevin Nance, discusses Mort’s use of the first-person plural pronoun—the “we”—in her work. She explains to Nance that her use of “we” might be explained by her lack of “courage” to use “I,” or a reflection of her desire to maintain “distance” from her work. She adds, “Maybe [it’s] because I feel that some poems are sort of ‘generational’ poems and things I’m saying in them could have been said by many people of my age.” As an experiment, take one of your own poems written in a first-person-singular voice—the “I”—and rewrite it in the plural “we.” How does this seemingly small maneuver transform the work? Does the meaning of the poem change, and does the work gain or lose impact?

In “Putting Your Poetry In Order,” (page 61), Katrina Vandenberg writes of the difficulty, but importance, of ordering a group of poems for a book. She describes a strategy that she learned from one of her mentors, Pattiann Rogers: “Pattiann had me go through my poems and write a list of the images and themes I noticed in the lower right-hand corner of each manuscript page.” Vandenberg then used these notations in organizing her work. Try this strategy for yourself, marking a set of poems as Vandenberg did and then looking for the connections, repetitions, and echoes that emerge.

Both Katrina Vandenberg (“Putting Your Poetry in Order,” page 61), and Valzhyna Mort (“You Cannot Tell This to Anybody,” page 29), speak of the influence of music on their work. Vandenberg even organizes her essay for the magazine with a series of section headings that are song titles. Take one of your longer works—an essay or story, or a group of poems—and experiment with dividing the piece(s) using musical references. You might use song titles, as Vandenberg did, or musical terms such as these: forte, adagio, staccato, rap, tango, chorus, etc.

In “Saving the Short Story” (page 49) Katherine Hill talks with Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti about their literary magazine, One Story. In the interview, Hill quotes from Tinti’s blog, in which Tinti explains that the creation of the magazine was driven, in part, by the tragedy of 9/11: “It seems kind of silly, and insignificant, and very obviously nerdy, but [starting the magazine], I think, was a hopeful act. A tiny step towards living.” Consider a tragedy you have experienced in your own life, and how it moved you, inspired you, to embark on a new path “towards living.” Record your thoughts in a journal entry or essay, explaining both the event and its impact.

Professional Practice

In “Agents & Editors” (page 41), Jofie Ferrari-Adler interviews Nat Sobel, an agent who has worked in the publishing business for almost fifty years. Sobel says that he has found many of the fiction writers he now represents ithrough literary journals. Moreover, when interviewer Jofie Ferrari-Adler asks him which publications he subscribes to, Sobel says, “over a hundred.” Make a list of the five journals or magazines to which you would like to submit work. Need some help in identifying potential publications?—check out “Project Lit Mag” on page 49, which includes profiles on publications and suggestions for submissions.

Project Lit Mag” is this issue’s special section on literary journals. Within that section, on page 50, appears “Five Tips for Submitting Your Work,” a set of guidelines and suggestions for getting your work published. One of the suggestions is to read—and read carefully—a recent issue of a publication to which you’d like to submit and to “look for any particular qualities the stories, essays, or poems share that might also be present in your work.” Pursue that suggestion, getting a hard copy of a publication and reading it cover-to-cover. Write a journal entry or short paper in which you identify at least three connections between the work you observe in the magazine and the work you plan to submit.

In the profile of Valzhyna Mort “You Cannot Tell This to Anybody” (page 29), interviewer Kevin Nance reports on a recent literary event in which Mort and other authors read from one another’s works. The result, according to Nance and the attendees at the event, was that new meanings and understandings emerged from the exchange. Trade your latest work with a writing partner, or a member of your writing class, and ask that the chosen person read your work aloud. Listen closely to how the person interprets your work, and how the nature, theme, or voice of the work is transformed.

Check out the “Grants & Awards” section (page 75). Target three listings for submission and commit them to your calendar, noting deadlines, requirements, and other necessary information.

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