Weeks ago, NPR reported that they found some long lost poems of Robert Frost right around the time of the 50-year mark of his death. I immediately thought of an interview the College newspaper printed about me my sophomore year at Morehead State University. The title of the article: “Poet-cheerleader says writing makes her relax.” I found the article in a shoebox cleaning out my closet last week and cringed as I read my comments. I was naive and engaged in way too much posturing. The interviewer asked what my poetic influences were, and I said I read a lot of Robert Frost.
That was a lie. I said Robert Frost because of a book of poems my father gave me for Christmas one year. I never read the book. I said I read Frost and that he was an influence to me. Probably in an attempt to sound smart or influenced. This leads me to a common problem within the literary landscape.
Where are all the readers?
I ask this question knowing I have committed the sin of writing without reading in my earlier years as a writer, but seeing as how I’ve had some brilliant minds and good guidance over the last decade, I can say that I know see the intrinsic link between being a writer and being a reader. But do the masses?
With just over 100 full-residency and low-residency MFA programs in the country, the space for creative development is expanding far more quicker than the audience of poetry readers is expanding. In fact, some would argue the readership is diminishing if anything.
I had a student approach me after class the other day and announce, “I want to be a writer.” My first response: “Who are you reading?” His response was similar to the response I get from my beloved dog when I ask him a question: tilt of the head, furrowed brow, expression of “huh?”. I told him to read religiously – as often and as a much as he could. To read that which is appealing and that which is not. To discover what the landscape is and how his voice will play a role. He seemed discouraged. So I tacked on to the end of my speech, ” and keep writing.” His smile returned.
I was asked months ago “What do you want to do with your literary career?” Ethelbert Miller started an obsession that has had me tinkering with various thoughts and plans since that meeting. I believe part of it is to assist in curing the problem above. Reinvigorate the readership. And merge fashion with poetry (hang in there for more on this one).