Kevin Stein, Illinois
Studied Poetry: My
own formal studies in poetry reached their peak at Indiana
University in the early 80s, where I was gifted with devoted
teachers and a slew of inspiring literary pals. Still, as
I tell my own students, one learns more outside of the classroom
than in it. My most vivid memories of sudden revelation revolve
around either the slog of my solitary labors or late-night
gatherings of poet friends in coffeehouses and bars, our
fresh poems unfolded from our back pockets and passed around
for others’ responses.
many of my generation, I was a member of a pretty lame garage
band, so my first poems were “moon/June/soon” lyrics
for the band. In retrospect, however, I was primed to love
of language by my parents’ dinnertime ritual of asking
us kids to describe something that happened during our day.
They were teaching us to write the narrative of our lives and
to ponder our connection with our fellow beings. The best-told
story always earned the most kudos, something every kid craves.
a single word that echoes in my mind or a snippet of overheard
times it’s w0hat appears outside my window, say, the
blood red cardinal at rest upon a branch of still-green apples. Many times it’s what I’m reading—poetry,
science, history, the newspaper—or the music I’m
listening to. It’s anything that snags my attention.
As Malebranche says, “Attention is the natural prayer
of the soul.”
Favorite Poets: Such
a question is a fair one, but it’s a little like asking a child, “Which
parent do you love the most?” I’ve been influenced
by numerous poets from the long dead to my contemporaries.
If I read something and it takes the top of my head off, as
Emily Dickinson says, then I know it’s poetry, and I
want to do something like that. If pressed, I’d point
to the American poet James Wright, whose work I love for its
intellectual and emotional range.
Naturally, one thinks first of the external barriers—attracting editors’ attention,
building an audience, learning the ropes. But
in reality the biggest hurdles lie inside oneself. By this
I mean overcoming one’s innate sloth and tendency to
frustration. I mean learning to see one’s nagging self-doubt
as the engine that drives one’s finding newer and better
ways of expression. I mean overcoming and loving the self simultaneously.
suggest the three R’s:
Read, Revise, and Risk. Read everything and everybody: poetry,
science, history, philosophy, and the newspapers. Most importantly,
read both those you love and those who challenge your own
dearest assumptions. Revise. Be one not easily satisfied.
Find a community of fellow writers and seek out their opinions.
Risk. You’ll grow as an artist only when you risk your
emotional and intellectual life. Risk surprising yourself,
or you’ll never surprise your reader.#