The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 20, 2009

Nick Twemlow of The Canary & Canarium Books Pt. 2: On MFAs and Slow Readings

FSG: As a poet who spent time in a creative writing MFA program, what are your thoughts on that path for aspiring poets?

Nick Twemlow: Take some time off between undergrad and applying; go see the world. Don't hesitate; go while you're still young. Apply to Iowa. Don't apply to Iowa. Don't spend a dime on an MFA. Mortgage yourself to the limit. Go to a big program. Make sure you find a small, intimate program. The only thing that matters is who is teaching there. Your teachers will be an afterthought; it's all about your peers. Rankings matter. Rankings are useless. You need to attend a highly structured program. You should go somewhere where all you do is write. The creative writing PhD is the new MFA, which was the new apprenticeship to Stanley Kunitz. Never, ever say "workshopped," as in, "Today, we workshopped Gino's poem about aporia and smelly socks." If a poet with an MFA tells you to not get an MFA, ask them how, then, do I go about getting tenure? When a prospective non-academic employer asks you what job skills you acquired while earning your MFA, act like you have a rash on your arm that cannot stop itching. They will go silent.

FSG: Do you regularly submit your work to journals? Is it a frustrating process? What would you change about it if you could, and what opportunities do you wish poets had?

NT: I wish poets had fewer opportunities to publish. I don't mean that I wish there were fewer venues for poetry publication; more that the enterprise of publishing poems came with a few restrictions. For example, I have long been a fan of the idea that you should not submit work to any magazine (this applies to print) that you do not subscribe to or at least have purchased a copy or two of. If The Canary had as many subscribers as poets we had published--never mind as many poets who submitted work to us--we might not be on hiatus.

I recognize that subscriptions cost money, and that many poets do not have much left at the end of the month to pay for an issue of their favorite journal. I also admit that I have sent work to many more magazines than I have actually subscribed to. And yet, how many people think twice about downloading a song, an album from iTunes? or getting cable? or going to see Observe and Report? Add all that leisure cash up, you get a few magazine subscriptions. It's not about making money, of course; all the editors I know or have worked with lose cash, out of pocket, year in and year out. It's a matter of community, and support in the form of actually purchasing journals is one way to ensure that the community you value and participate in continues to exist.

FSG: I noticed the "Slow Readings" section of the Canarium Books website. How does that work? Do you approach reviewers and ask them to give their impressions of specific poems, or do they offer? Can readers send you their own reviews/opinions of the poems you publish?

NT: The Slow Readings idea was born out of a desire on all the editors' part to read reviews devoted to one poem, allowing as much space as the writer felt necessary to discuss the poem. I understand the need for brevity when it comes to newspapers and magazines, but many reviews often read like blurbs. What can a reader of a short review really get out of 300-500 words on a book? There's little room for excerpting, and since poems generally don't paraphrase neatly as novels do, unless the reviewer is exceptional the review ends up being a gloss of catchphrases that just as well could describe the next book over on the reviewer's shelf.

So we wrote a brief statement of what we wanted, and sent it to reviewers we've admired for some time (initially, Jordan Davis and Dan Beachy-Quick) for their excellent prose and thinking. We had one caveat: We asked that the reviewer choose a poem from any previous issue of The Canary. We wanted to direct readers and potential readers back to the poems we love, and we think it's the perfect balance between celebrating these poems and the writers who wrote them. We are happy to receive inquiries from anyone who may want to write for the Slow Readings section of our site.

FSG: And finally, who are your favorite poets, and which emerging poets are you excited about these days?

NT:  The books that excite me most right now are books very near and dear to me: Revolver, by my wife Robyn Schiff; Ish's Union!; and Tod's The Tangled Line. What excites me about these books are their obsessive, complete worlds, the ambition of each book's vision, as utterly different from each other as they are. All three present a world I couldn't, as a writer, begin to conceive, and I suppose that is what I look for in a book, simple as it sounds.

I am excited about several other recent books, including Arda Collins' It is Daylight; John Thirkield's The Waker's Corridor; Kevin Davies' The Golden Age of Paraphernalia; James Shea's Star in the Eye; Ed Skoog's Mister Skylight, and Paul Killebrew's first collection, Flowers, which Canarium Books will publish this winter. I also am a great fan of several poets who await a first book (please Google them and read their poems, publish them if you have the means): Erica Bernheim, Andy Carter, Josh May, and Kevin Larimer.

Please read Nick Twemlow's poetry by clicking the below links:

"With Delicate Hand"

"Pastel"

"Remote Viewing"

and others.


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