Roundtable Discussion with Robert Hass

January 17, 2009

Many of my writer friends ask if getting an MFA is worth it.  One friend in particular, a published fiction writer (who is half way through a two book deal and a holds a few rejection letters from MFA programs) advised me that if I really wanted to write a book I could just sit my butt down in a chair and write over the next three years and have a book…  While that is true one of the benefits of an MFA program is having access to (and I don’t just mean sitting in the audience, but the opportunity to interact with) visting writers* many who are the superstars of their genre.  

I and several of my colleagues availed myself of one such opportunitythis past Thursday when former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass met with graduate students for a roundtable discussion.

Bob (he said to call him Bob) shared a lot of wisdom with us and though I didn’t manage to write it all down, I will pass along a few pearls that really shined for me:

Be always writing

on the page
on the computer screen
or even in your head….

Be always writing
(does this blog post count?)

 Read writers that make you want to write.

Explore different Forms
Bob told us how he was fascinated with the paragraph as a form then advised that like Monet did with haystacks “Find a form you like and explore it fully.”

“You can do anything– but not everyone can do everything well,” he said.
In post-workshop discussions, Anastasia told me she liked the first clause and not the second. I on the other hand liked the entire sentence. To me, the first clause gives you permission to try anything, and the second clause gives you permission to fail. So much of art is about stretching boundaries and having the guts to fail, and so to me the whole sentence has impact. I may just print it out and tape it up on my wall in big bold, purple letters….

When fellow MFAer and poet Erika L. Sanchez asked about the current trend of poetry that is gimmicky and overly intellectual, Bob noted that “New art gets made out of what you love… and what you’re impatient with that’s out there.”

And with that, I know I felt inspired to write… to be always writing…


* Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz visited last Fall. And this is in addition to the well-published faculty that will mentor you on developing your craft and not just tell you how wonderful you are. (That’s what my family and friends are for).


Feel free to post in the comments anything that resonated with you.


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