Advice for Young Poets by Sharon Olds

“Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can—not more than the people around you but not so much less.”

Sharon Olds, from “Advice to Young Poets: Sharon Olds in Conversation,”, Michael Laskey.

Find more advice to writers in this poem: 

I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip

Read rest of poem, plus others by Olds, at Modern American Poetry

Read more about Sharon Olds



Advice to young poets from Rita Dove

I would say to someone who was wondering if they could become a poet, you have two things in front of you. First of all, you have your heart and the things that you want to say. Nothing is too small. Nothing is too, quote-unquote, ordinary or insignificant. Those are the things that make up the measure of our days, and they’re the things that sustain us.And they’re the things that certainly can become worthy of poetry.

And the other thing is your tools, which is the writing itself – the language, the way you use that language; even grammar. And so you use one in order to get to the other. And when someone tells you your poem is bad, it doesn’t mean that your heart is bad, it just means that your language, the way – your tools, you have to hone them a little more. So be able to separate those two, and to work to hone the tools. To practice your scales, so to speak, in order play the symphony, is what you have to do as a young poet.

And to read. To read, read, read. If you don’t love to read, if you don’t get taken in by any text that you see – on the back of a cereal box or in a book – then I would say you probably won’t have the right passion to write as well.

-Rita Dove, “Rita Dove on New Anthology, Advice for Young Poets,” NPR, December 31, 2014

“Theme for English B”


By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.

Read rest of poem