Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Want to Write Poetry? Study Literature!

What Does a Poet Need to Know?
© Linda Sue Grimes

My personal experience convinces me that a good foundation in traditional literature is indispensable for a writing career--especially in creative writing.

Personal Experience
When I was a senior in high school (1963-64), the opportunity opened for seniors to take creative writing instead of English literature. A number of us choose to do that. Actually, the class was probably about 30 of our total number of 76. The creative writing class was taught by the same teacher who had the previous year taught American history, and that year was this teacher’s first year at our school. That he was able to talk the administration into letting him teach creative writing is testimony to this man’s powers of persuasion. He was a poet himself and also taught English.

The English literature teacher had taught at our school for over thirty years, and she was an excellent teacher. I had in been in her sophomore English class and junior English, which focused on American literature.

But I chose to take the creative writing option instead of English literature, and over the years, I have regretted that choice. If I had taken the creative writing in addition to the English literature class, I would have received a much better education. Instead, by taking the creative writing, I missed out on learning about valuable foundations such as Beowulf, Shakespeare, and other important British literature.

At first I thought it didn’t matter too much, because I was very interested in foreign languages, and I considered becoming a teacher of Spanish, Latin, or French. It turns out that I became of teacher of German, but my interest in poetry soon returned, and I returned to writing poetry.
As I engaged my interests in creating poetry, I realized that my knowledge of literature was deficient. So I returned to graduate school to complete a degree in English. And after finishing the MA and PhD in English, I had finally caught up. I actually chose British literature as my concentration area for my PhD. Still, if I had just taken the English literature as a senior in high school, I would have been ahead of the game.

Very interesting. Read it all here.

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