Today’s conference spotlight features poet Walter Bargen who became Missouri’s first poet laureate in 2008. His poems and fictions have appeared in over 100 publications including American Literary Review, Missouri Review, River Styx and more. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship in 1991 and several subsequent awards. Over his forty year writing career, he has published 14 books of poetry including his most recent, Endearing Ruins, (2012) along with Theban Traffic, (2008) which focuses on a couple, Stella and Jake, living in the present-day town of Thebes in the Midwest.
During the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” writing conference, Walter will teach a breakout session and a master class. His breakout session will investigate what the great prose poem poet Russell Edson, meant when he wrote, “pure poetry is silence.” If this is true, then how does anyone write a poem, knowing that this standard of purity can never be reached by the act of writing?
Attendees of his Sunday morning master class will take a close look at first lines in poetry. He will read several examples of poems structured by their first line. Then, attendees will write poems with the first line in mind.
Sarah: Walter, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the impending Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference. We’re looking forward to having you this year!
Walter: I’m honored to be asked to part of the MWG conference and look forward to meeting fellow poets.
Sarah: What is the most surprising thing you learned while being Missouri’s first poet laureate?
Walter: What most surprised me was the continuous interest in the position of Poet Laureate over the entire two years of the appointment. I made over 100 appearances including visiting primary and secondary schools, county and city libraries, elder facilities, historical societies, book festivals, etc. And that number could have been larger, except for scheduling conflicts and having the time to do it.
Sarah: If beginning poets want to publish their poems, where would you recommend they start?
Walter: Sometimes it is good to go back to the very beginning and remind ourselves that if we are not writing, we should be reading. Reading is the foundation of writing along with understanding that we must write every day. Only if we become fluent and confident in our writing, trusting in the process of writing, will magazine editors and publishers be interested in what we write. Then I would begin by submitting my work to magazines within the state where I live, e.g., Natural Bridge, New Letters, River Styx, Chariton Review, etc. Also, I would find magazines on the web, such as, 2River, Midway Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, etc., and submit to them, too. And if my work is rejected I look on the rejection as an opportunity to revise the work. Be persistent. Send the work out until you get it accepted.
Sarah: During your master class, you plan to answer a lot of questions about first lines. Why is the first line of a poem so important?
Walter: If success is defined as getting the reader to read the poem that you’ve written, then the first line is of paramount importance. If the first line is just functional or weak, then there’s good chance the reader won’t enter further into the poem. Plus a good first line helps the poem succeed in many more ways that will be discussed during the workshop along with listing the characteristics of a good first line.
Sarah: What should attendees expect to learn from attending your breakout session on silence in poetry?
Walter: Hopefully, it will poets make use of one of the most powerful aspects of a poem that is often overlooked and forgotten. Also, that there are many forms/types of silence.
Sarah: What do you hope people who attend your sessions take away from them?
Walter: An excitement and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for writing and reading poetry, along with some ideas and techniques for writing new poems.
Sarah: And finally, any new projects you’re working on or any news in your world you’d like to share?
Walter: My 15th book, Troubled Behind Glass Doors, is scheduled for publication in January, 2013. I have two other completed manuscripts that are looking for publishers and two manuscripts that I’m working on revising. And I will be giving a reading at the St. Charles Art Foundry on April 27th at 7 pm.
Sarah: Walter, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your upcoming guest appearance at the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference.
If you haven’t registered for the conference, but are interested in attending and hearing Walter speak, it’s not too late! Click here to learn more about late registration.