Poets & Writers Magazine welcomes feedback from its readers. Please post a comment on select articles at pw.org, e-mail email@example.com, or write to Editor, Poets & Writers Magazine, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10004. Letters accepted for publication may be edited for clarity and length.
Feedback from readers
Thank you for Kristen Iskandrian’s powerful and moving essay “What I Deserve: How to Write Like Nobody’s Reading” (May/June 2022). To describe herself as a “failed poet” is a mistake; her writing is pure poetry.
I am sharpening my pencils to embrace the writing life after a rewarding twenty-two-year career in education as a language arts instructor, but not without some trepidation. After decades driven by ringing school bells, I am daunted by stretches of unscheduled time. After effectively managing innumerable classrooms, I am hesitant to oversee my own writing sessions. Jami Attenberg’s “1000 Words of Summer: How an Accountability Project Opened Up My Writing Life” (May/June 2022) is exactly the after-school care that I need. Attenberg’s summer partnership offers a thousand-word commitment, participant encouragement, and inspiration. But what if what I write does not make the grade? Attenberg thought of that, too, when she offered Lauren Groff’s gripping words about the quality of the work we produce. Groff said that the result of our assiduous attempts might just be “a twitching nose or a whisker” of brilliance, but “sometimes [we] get lucky, and [our] work stalks [us] like a tiger.” For years I guided students through the uncharted territory of middle school while I quietly nurtured whispers of my own poems and stories. Now, for the summer, Attenberg’s initiative will be my guide, helping me to navigate my new assignment as a learner, not a teacher—and maybe, just maybe, unleashing a hidden tiger.
Fort Myers, Florida
Thank you for the article on fact-checking in memoir writing, “The Fully Fact-Checked Memoir: Backing Up Facts, Standing Behind Truth” (March/April 2022) by Sarah Fay. The author’s specific advice is useful. I do wish, however, that as part of her fact-checking she had included some discussion with ordinary clinical psychiatrists. She would have discovered that none of us think of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as our “bible.” The DSM is a response to the demands of insurance companies and other payers such as Medicare and Medicaid, which require a specific diagnosis for every claim. We never use it to guide patient care.
Sarah Fay responds:
Thank you for your response. You’re right: The situation with the DSM is complicated. That’s why I wrote Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses—to share that information with patients and their families. In my article, I didn’t refer to the DSM as psychiatry’s bible but rather said that it’s “often referred to as psychiatry’s bible.” It’s been called that since the 1990s—by others, not by me. And I’ve spoken with many ordinary clinical psychiatrists, including my own, whom I deeply respect. Although you may be confident to diagnose your patients based on your opinion and training, general practitioners are doing much of the diagnosing and prescribing of psychotropic medications even though the majority have very little training in psychiatry. Five of six of my diagnoses came from general practitioners. Happy to keep the conversation going!
Checking in with a recent contributor
Diane Seuss, whose essay “Restless Herd: Some Thoughts on Order—in Poetry, in Life” appeared in the May/June 2021 issue, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry for frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021). “Strung together, the sonnets compose a book that theorizes memory and converses with the dead,” she wrote in our pages. “Do they compose, also, a life? Some might say so.”
“Prize Offers Access for African Writers” (May/June 2022) by Eva Recinos incorrectly stated that the Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize was founded in 2018 and includes publication of a translated edition by Italian publisher 66thand2nd; the prize was founded in 2017 and no longer includes publication by 66thand2nd.