Mentoring Reflections

Lee Upton is professor of English and writer-in-residence. One of her mentees, Ross Gay ’96, is a poet and instructor at Indiana University, Bloomington, and the MFA in poetry program, Drew University.

Mentoring ReflectionsTo mentor imaginative writers means engaging in an extreme form of listening. Mentoring is also about treating with respect the shape that each emerging writer’s work is taking while recommending that the writer read and re-read a range of authors, including those laboring in the same aesthetic territory as the student as well as authors
whose approach differs dramatically and as such may present unexpected directions. Always, I want students to recognize that the demands that creative writing places upon them can be exhilarating. Making powerful stories — that ancient and ever-new art — requires fusing talent with passion and craft to generate discoveries about our imperfect, mystifying, fragile lives, and that is work for nothing less than a lifetime.

A mother kept her daughter hidden
from the Russian.
A stranger, the Russian
raised his gun above the table and
shot through the old painting of a card shark.
That man cheats! the Russian shouted.
It’s still there: the bullet hole.
Was the stranger proving he was honest
when it came to cards?
Nevertheless, the mother knew enough to
hide beauty.
Wait. Then wait more.
Until danger’s out of the house.
Hide beauty.
Then, dear God, double beauty.
Invent sisters.

—Lee Upton

“Beauty” appeared in New Madrid 6.2 (2011): 54.

Mentoring ReflectionsI don’t know if I can say anything about mentoring better than these few lines from Thomas Lux’s poem “An Horatian Notion”: “You make the thing because you love the thing / and you love the thing because someone else loved it / enough to make you love it.” That’s about it, isn’t it? How lucky I feel to have been mentored in loving — poetry, language, a bird’s neck in fl ight. Yes: shown better how to love the world. Mentors all dear and important to me…. Ed Kerns and Lee Upton and Bernard Tiernan and Susan Blake.

Honeybunny, for you, I’ve got a mouthful
of soot. Sweetpea, for you, I always smell
like blood. Everything that touches me, Lovemuffi n,
turns to salt. When I think of you
I see fi re. When I dream of you
I hear footsteps on bones. When I see you
I can feel the scythe’s smooth handle
in my palm. Love, you got me
standing at attention.
Clutching my heart. Polishing guns.
Love, I got a piggy bank
painted like a fl ag. I got a fl ag
in the shape of a piggy bank. For you,
Sugarfoot, I’ve been dancing
the waterboard. You’re under
my skin, Love. Don’t know
what I’d do without you,

—Ross Gay

From Bringing the Shovel Down
(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011)