I was recently invited to visit the undergraduate poetry workshop of Gil Allen, professor and poet at Furman University in Greenville, SC. The purposes of the visit was to give the students a chance to hold a small-group conversation with a working poet. What a pleasure! After I started our session by reading a poem, the twelve students in the class each told me about what for them seemed hard, and in turn what seemed easy, about writing poems. We also talked about such issues as where our poems come from, how we get started, and how much revising we do. I tried to emphasize the fact that my poems rarely begin with an idea; they're much more likely to begin with a line that comes to me. Typically I keep laying down one line after another, not really knowing where I'm headed. The more I write, the more I like the mystery of where the developing poem is taking me, its surprises and turns along the way. It's probably apparent, too, that I like to sit and talk about writing.
The students were eager for the exchange, which made my whole trip worthwhile. Thanks for inviting me, Gil. And thanks to the students--James, Christan, Rachel, Duncan, Drew, Sarah, Gwendolyn, Scott, Stephen, Keegan, Ait, and Helen--for voicing your concerns and ideas about the writing process. I was happy to be there for our conversation on poetry.