August 23, 2016

Writing About Craft

One of the unique components of a low-residency graduate program is the residency itself, which is often designed using the template of writer's conferences such as those at Sewanee or Bread Loaf. For the University of Tampa MFA instructors, this might mean that in a given 10-day stretch we're giving a craft talk in our genre (~20 poets), plus perhaps a craft talk to all students, in multiple genres (~80 people). That is in addition to leading eight sessions of a workshop with our 4-5 students, which I always lead off with a 20-minute close reading of poems framed as craft discussion. 

In other words: we've got craft coming out of our ears. 

It wasn't until I began to teach that I came to appreciate the art of smart, incisive yet conversational craft writing. It wasn't until I began to teach that I realized we needed more of such prose published, especially by women and voices of color.

I'm not talking about book reviews. That is an important genre as well, but different in tone and intent. I've also encountered a lot of great self-reflexive craft pieces written in the past few years, views of "inside my process." Increasingly, such pieces are one of the myriad of ways we're asked to promote new work. Those are wonderful, but they often have hybrid qualities--they can very easily cross over into the realm of personal essay. I've worked in that mode myself,  and will continue to do so, but I've really come to admire are crisp IM-personal essays that focus solely on outside authors and do not measure themselves by timeliness or relevance to a zeitgeist; they simply show us, line by line or phrase by phrase, how the language is exerting power on the page. 

One of my other responsibilities at UTampa is giving a pep talk to the Third-Termers, who are responsible for generating a 25-page critical essay on top of their standard responsibilities. This often freaks them out, because it feels like an arbitrary hoop to jump; irrelevant to their aspirations as a "creative" writer. But a good writer is a good writer, period. Coming at this as a mentor, the point isn't that I'm going to lose sleep if someone's citations aren't in perfect MLA format. The point is that someone who can't strategize a 25-page essay is also going to struggle with sustaining 250-page novel, or sifting and organizing 50 poems. 

The point, as well, is that the best gift you can make to a book you're passionate about, perhaps of a rarefied genre or by an author no longer with us, is to write something illuminative that makes others more likely to pick it up.

One of my resolutions, in choosing to accept more teaching roles while still prioritizing my writing, was that I would generate at least one or two substantive craft essays each year. Since any book aspirations I have in this regard are at least five years out, that leaves me in search of great journal venues that are open to essays about craft. Not too long ago, I surveyed friends and fellow writers for their favorite publishing spaces, and with their contributions in hand, I give you this list.


American Poets [General info]
American Poetry Review ["About Us" / Submittable]
Assay [Guidelines]
Blackbird [Guidelines / Submission Manager
Brevity [Guidelines]
Cleaver [Submittable]
The Essay Review ["About" / "Submit"]
The Hopkins Review [Author Guidelines]
LitHub [General info]
Measure [ Guidelines / Submissions Manager]
N+1 ["Contact"]
Parnassus Poetry in Review ["Contact Us"]
Passages North [Submissions]
Poetry Foundation  [Submittable]
Poetry Northwest [Guidelines / Submittable
Poets and Writers  [Guidelines]
Talking Writing ["General Guidelines" / Submittable]
The Tishman Review [Guidelines / Submittable]
TriQuarterly ["Submissions" / Submittable]
Writer’s Chronicle [Guidelines / Submittable]

Note: I've included a couple of magazines where the craft writing is delegated to a particular space, e.g. the "Writers on Writing" blog for Passages North.

Got a journal you think should be listed here? Let me know! I'm happy to expand.


P.S. - If you missed it, I just did a sprawling interview for The Mackinac, Issue 10. This is a startlingly wonderful little journal that designs a custom "Liquor List" for each issue, in addition to a Spotify playlist. They asked me to send along two new poems, so I did. Thanks to the editors, Lenea Grace & Brookes Moody. 

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