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Interview with Poet Laureate Kevin Stein - by Lotusneko
Konnichiwa, my little cherry blossoms! This week's subject is part one of my interview with the Poet Laureate of Illinois. Kevin Stein will share his views on critiquing and promoting poetry. I also have my Tip of the Month for making reviews more helpful.

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Kevin Stein is a professor and director of creative writing at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Mr. Stein has been the state Poet Laureate since 2003. He has authored many poetry collections and anthologies. His widely-acclaimed work has been honored with multiple prizes and fellowships.

Besides producing poetry, Mr. Stein is an active critic and editor. Passionate about his field, he organizes the works of Illinois poets. He especially nutures the young poetic voices in the student body of Bradley. Poetry is thriving in the school's atmosphere, an accomplishment that has been acknowledged as largely Mr. Stein's. For this endeavour, he has received accolades.

A much more detailed biography, as well as samples of his work, is available at his website: http://www.bradley.edu/poet/bio/index.shtml

Good morning, thank you so much for speaking with me today. Let me tell you what
this is for: writing dot com is a website for writers, where we review and critique each other's work. I am one of the editors for an unofficial site newsletter called the "Reviewing Newsletter."

Oh, okay, when you contacted me,I wasn't sure what you meant by "reviewing." By reviewing, you mean critiquing.

You have arguably reached the pinnacle of achievement for your craft of poetry. Do you feel you no longer benefit from someone else reviewing your poems?

Only or fool or a god might think that. I've come to depend upon readers I have come to trust over the years. The kinds of comments someone can get from someone besides your
mother or your spouse, who will always say nice things, you need someone who can tell
you when you've screwed up. They can help you reveal the gem in your work. Let me
ask you a question: Don't you feel you are a better critiquer of other folks' poems than you are your own?

(Laughs) Yes, absolutely.

So there's my answer to that question

Now that you are following in the footsteps of the great poets, including former Illinois Poet Laureate Carl Sandburg, are people too intimidated or afraid to give you their honest opinions of your poetry?

That's a good question. I think I've found two extremes. Some folks are indeed a little hesitant. They don't see their opinon as valuable. They don't see their opinion as a matter of taste.


Yes, people have different tastes in poetry. The other extreme is that folks like to find fault in one's work because it makes one feel good, or if this poem is flawed, and this person is fairly skilled, there is hope for me.

In your formative years as a writer and poet, who was a mentor to you? Who gave
you feedback when you shared your poetry?

I've been lucky. In graduate school at Indiana University, I was surrounded by a wonderful group of fiction and poety writers, some of whom have gone on to have very fine careers. I think that circle of readers is tremendously important for a writer.

That is what draws and keeps writers to Writing.com

Specifically, Dee Young, Ralph Burns, Keith Ratzlaff, fiction writer Clint McCown. These
are poets and writers that I still share my work with to this day.

That's wonderful.

Like I say, I feel I've been lucky. It's a solitary art we have chosen, but that sense of community is integral to your growth as a writer.

It is wonderful that you all nuture each other like that.

It is unusual, because poetry is so competitive.

So, you have been married for thirty years. Congratulations.

Yes, that is difficult in this day and age.

Does your wife write poetry as well?

No, she doesn't.

Do you have children?

Yes, I have a son who is a freshman in high school, and a daughter who is a junior in college.

What do they think of your state post? Do they share their father's interest in poetry?

No, they have their own interests. They are interested in music and the arts, but neither one has tried poetry.

Do you use electronic media to communicate with each other now? I mean, when I
was in college the only thing that was becoming used was the dot-matrix printer to replace typewriters. I had a electric typewriter.

Then you were pretty high-tech. I wasn't a very good typist. You didn't want to have to retype to edit a poem. I used a lot of erasable bond paper. We used to gather, with our poems in our back pockets, at restaurants and bars, I do phone-a-poem. I say, "I'm working on something; can you help me with that?

When did you first feel confident being an editor and literary critic?

(laughs) I still don't. That kind of confidence can border on arrogance, which is problematic. I like that sense of unease, uncertainty, that I get when I read a poem. I always like to interrogate myself and my own assumptions about poetry once I'm reading it. It's essential to keeping the possiblities of poetry alive. By the time I began to write essays about poetry, I began to think I was valuable. But one can think one knows too much.

So you've never been a know-it-all.

I've never met any know-it-alls I like, have you?

(laughs) No.

I've developed a body of knowledge, but I never think of it as complete or full. One has to keep adding to it.

Did you have a journal that you wrote your poems in?

That's the romantic vision. My students do. I used to write them on scrap pieces of paper, and I still do. I like the sense of my poems being tentative. On the backside of an assignment, I haven't wasted anything I write almost exclusively on recycled paper.

That's very conscientious.

Well, its not so much an environmental stance so much as a personal stance. I always
begin in pencil, and I will go through several handwritten drafts. Once I go to the computer, it's harder to make tough changes. You can't draw arrows, circle words, write over different words.

When you review a piece of poetry, how do you balance your intellect and your
emotions? Or, do you rely mostly on intellect?

Or a third is merely technical, are the best words in the best order? That is the third leg of the stool. For me, I think poems engage all these faculties: intellect, awareness, and technical properties. Sometimes a poem can be technically perfect, but not very intellectually stimulating. Or it can be emotionally charged, bring up a wellspring of
emotion, and technically flawed. All three of those legs have to stand; if they don't stand, don't sit on that stool. If someone is critiquing someone else's work, I'm more aware of a technical aspect.

How is peer reviewing used in your classes?

Well, that's the basis of the semster-long workshop course, where students give forth, that is, respond to each other's work, and offer suggestions and complaints, if you will.

For you, what are the elements of a good critique?

Attention to detail, an awareness of the overall design, goal, or purpose of the piece of writing. Scrupulous honesty. Lastly, a sense of goodwill.

Next time, I will feature the second part of the interview. This final part is focused on poetry.


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From J. A. Buxton :

((Last months's question was: What do you like to get back for your reviews? What is the best/worst reward you have received? Feedback on this topic and any others is always welcome.))

The best reward is easy to answer. When a person here tells me one of my stories inspired
them in some way, I don't think I could get a better reward. Many reviewers emailed me that my articles about using Google had them using more features of this search engine than they had in the past. Mission accomplished!

I once wrote a story, now a chapter in my second novel, about paper clips meaning something to survivors of the Holocaust. Reviewers wrote back that they researched this
fact after reading what I'd written. To pique a person's interest in history is high praise and sufficient reward for a writer, don't you agree?

Getting gift points for a story is nice, but not necessary for me since I'd rather give them. Tell me even one line I wrote nudged your imagination in some way, and I'm as happy as a clam. By the way, has anyone ever seen a happy clam?

I'd also have to say that worst reward is an oxymoron, at least for a writer.

Leave it to you readers to come up with these little epiphanies that I, an editor, did not have. Helping someone with something practical, such as using a search engine more effectively, or piquing an interest in History, is a teacher's reward. And to inspire someone . . . ah, that is a poet's reward.

From fleckgirl:

LotusNeko - yet another wonderful newsletter, and one that made me feel like I am "doing the right thing" when I respond to a review (most of the time) ! Thanks so much for sharing your ideas - thinking about it & putting myself in the reviewer's shoes, it would be nice to receive a cNote or merit badge or siggie - I like the idea of mixing it up a bit - thanks! Keep up the good work on these newsletters!

Fleck Girl

Thank you for your feedback. I truly appreciate it.

From Anne Light :

That was an important topic you covered. I would like to stress the importance of the friendly reply. Putting an item up in your port, reviewing, and responding to reviews constitute the most important dialog on the site. Of course, I love GP's, c-notes, and merit badges. But if you tell me what I got right in my review and when I missed the point, you do me a way greater favor. You make me learn and improve as a reviewer.

Thanks for many inspiring thoughts!


You could not have said it better, and I'm glad you did.*Smile*

This months's question is: Who would you like to see interviewed in this newsletter?.

TIP OF THE MONTH Address the recepient of your review in a professional and sincere manner: "Dear (insert username)." Likewise, close your review with a salutation like "Yours Truly" or "Sincerely."

REVIEWING NL FEEDBACK FORUM Comments on ideas for a future
newsletter? This is the meeting place for readers and editors. Join in the discussions!
"Feedback Central"   by Storm Machine

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"Music moves us in a positive direction - physically, spiritually, mentally. It addresses the will to live. It saved my life." - Eddie Tuduri, quadriplegic drummer who started rhythm therapy to help others with disabilities.
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Created: 03-19-09 @ 7:03pm | Modified: 03-22-09 @ 7:35am      

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