Craig Morgan Teicher: How I Write

"I think poetry is available to anybody who wants it – you have to apprentice yourself at some level."

Craig Morgan Teicher
Craig Morgan Teicher

Craig Morgan Teicher’s most recent poetry collection, The Trembling Answers, was the winner of the 2018 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Personal and compelling in his exploration of fatherhood and family, Teicher’s work conveys self-reflection and struggle. Teicher is also a well-respected poetry critic and is the director of digital operations for Publishers Weekly. In addition to his latest book of poetry, he is also the author of the essay collection We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress.

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Why poetry?

My mother died when I was 14. We were close, and after she died, I needed to talk to somebody. Poetry was where I could do that talking in her absence. I started when I was 15. I had a wonderful English teacher in 10th grade. Being taught poetry in a way that was serious and took young students seriously made me think this was something I should do.

Transitioning from poetry to prose

I do a lot of prose writing work at Publishers Weekly. I think of writing poetry by the word, and with prose, doing it by the sentence or paragraph or idea. I think it’s easier to write prose but less fun. There are a lot more words to manage with prose, which can make it more tiring. I write prose when poems aren’t available to me.

The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher
The Trembling Answers by Craig Morgan Teicher

Writing “accessible” poetry

That’s certainly not my goal. I just don’t have a less-accessible way to write. I think poetry is available to anybody who wants it – you have to apprentice yourself at some level. Even as a reader, you have to take steps to get to it. I have a speech-type way of writing, a simple way. That’s just me. I think it’s a weakness and strength. Finding your voice is becoming comfortable with your strengths and weaknesses. If you think certain poets aren’t accessible, it’s really just the way their fascination with language plays out.

How to start writing poetry

The first thing people need to do is read a lot of poetry and just allow themselves to enjoy reading it. I understand being intimidated. I certainly was between the ages of 15 to 20. I kept banging my head against the door of poetry, trying to get in, before realizing there really wasn’t a door. Then you try to intuitively wade into what your own poems might feel like or look like. Just keep at it until it feels like it makes sense and feels like it’s yours.

Can anybody write poetry?

I think anybody who wants to can write poetry. All you have to do is move your hand around a piece of paper. The important thing to take seriously is that you’re writing into a long tradition of poems that speak to the whole course of language. There’s a lot to apprentice yourself to. We live in an age where language is changing and moving faster than ever.

How much do you know when you start writing a poem?

I start with a line or a sentence or a desire to write about an image. I just follow it, following the language and see where it leads. I just go with it. I like sonnets. And certainly when I get into rhyming, I’m filling a box, but I don’t know what will fill it. I just follow it.