Honing Your Tools

Rita Dove has some basic advice.

It’s for aspiring poets. But it’s meaningful for anyone aspiring to a creative life.

And Ms. Dove, the country’s first African-American poet laureate, knows about creativity.

Basically, her advice goes, you’ve got two things at your disposal.

First, “you have your heart,” she told NPR’s Michel Martin, “the things you want to say.” And nothing is insignificant, trivial, or too ordinary. These are “the things that make up the measure of our days…that sustain us.” They are certainly worthy of poetry.

Second, she said, you have your tools – the writing, the way you arrange words and sentences. So, the second thing is what you use to express the first thing.

“And when someone tells you your poem is bad,” Ms. Dove said, “it doesn’t mean that your heart is bad.” It just means that you need to sharpen your tools.

After all, what you have in you to say and the way you say it are different things. “So,” she explained, “be able to separate those two.”

Then, Ms. Dove said, “work to hone the tools.”

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