On whether or not he recommends a formal education
It’s true that writing and especially poetry relies on innate ability more than a lot of fields, which might make one think that a formal education, e.g. an MFA writing program, is a waste of time and money. But I quite heartily disagree. I came out of my writing program a much better writer, with a deeper understanding of my voice, my form and where my talents lie. The programs also instill a strong work ethic and capacity to meet deadlines. More importantly, though, is the community that emerged out of the program. Nearly every literary contact and relationship that I have traces back to my graduate program in one way or another.
Dont think of it as a career
Think of it as a job. Careers are lofty and praiseworthy. A job is grimy and thankless. Treat it like a job. Do it every day, like a job. Clock in and get to work. Even on the days when everything you write sucks. Keep doing it. Because doing it every day is the only way that it will stop sucking.
Mitigate your expectations
You will never be paid to be a poet. No one is paid to be a poet. Even the poet laureates aren’t paid enough for their art to support themselves. Poets are paid three ways: 1) Free drinks when they read at readings, 2) A free copy of the journal into which their poem has been accepted, 3) And 10 Free copies of their own book when they publish a full-length manuscript. That’s all. Any poet who gets more than that for their poetry has basically won the lottery.
Find something else to do
The saying ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.’ doesn’t apply to here. Rather it’s ‘those who can write poetry, write poetry AND teach.’ Sometimes they write and teach and bartend. Personally I write poetry and also write fiction and the occasional essay and I teach poetry and fiction and the essay; I also produce events for various arts organizations and I write copy for tech startups and ad firms and once I even came up with the name of a website for a franchise of gyms. If all you are doing is writing poetry then you are probably really burning through your trust fund.
Advice on getting your foot in the door
Go to readings. If you live in even a small city or near a small city there are poetry readings going on all the time. If you live in a major city then you’re probably at a poetry reading right now and you just don’t know it. Readings are where you find the community of writers and poets that will emotionally support your work, help you find outlets for publication.
Write voraciously. If you’re not writing constantly, then why do you want to be a poet? If you don’t think you’ve got any interesting thing to say, then you’re wrong. If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike, then I guarantee you it won’t. Just write and keep writing because that’s all there is to it.
Read more than you write. Reading other people’s work is the only way to gain any perspective on your own. Read everything. Read terrible novels and fantastic novels. Read all the books you were forced to read freshmen year in high-school and hated. Read cookbooks, read video-game instruction manuals. Read cereal boxes, and bank statements, and billboards and everything. Read poetry too. Read a lot of poetry.
Stop being scared to share your work. I promise your work is not as bad as you think it is. And I also promise that when you read something to a roomful of people you’ll know immediately what needs to be changed.