Pat Riviere-Seel: On Becoming a Poet

Pat Riviere-Seel has been a newspaper journalist, publicist, editor, and free-lance writer. She is currently associate editor of the Asheville Poetry Review and past president of the NC Poetry Society. Her first collection of poems, No Turning Back Now, published in 2004, was nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize.

Genève Bacon: Pat, given your nonfiction writing background, how did you wind up as a poet?

Pat Riviere-Seel: I began writing poetry in high school and had a few poems published there, and as an undergraduate I won a couple of awards for my poetry. In the 1990s, I attended a writers’ workshop in Spoleto, Italy, and I took a workshop with poet A. Van Jordan in Asheville. It was then I decided to apply to MFA programs. I found a low-residency program at Queens Univer-sity in Charlotte in 2001 that had just gotten under way. Being part of that first class, where everyone—teachers and students—were still molding the program, was appealing. An additional plus was the low student-faculty ratio with the emphasis on producing creative work. It was there, as I worked my way toward the Masters degree, that I called myself a poet. And that was the turning point in my growth as a writer.

GB: In what way?

PR-S: When I began the program, I had no idea how much I did not know! I needed an MFA program to take my work to a higher level. The greatest benefits of the program were being in a community with other poets, the lasting friendships I developed there, and beginning a system-atic approach to the study of poetry: history, theory, and craft. An added bonus was the excite-ment, joy, creativity, and spirit of exploration that we all brought to that first graduating class.

GB: Do you recommend that writers—fiction as well as poets—pursue an MFA?

PR-S: No, not at all. MFA programs are not necessary—or even desirable—for all poets and writers. For me, it signaled my willingness to claim an important part of my identity. I dis-covered there was a big difference between saying, “I write poems,” and saying, “I am a poet.” There are fine poets and poets far more academically disciplined than I who can devise their own course of study and approach to poetry. Neither Walt Whitman nor Emily Dickinson had the benefits of an MFA program. Whitman even self-published Leaves of Grass, and Dickinson had only 7 of her 1,775 poems published during her lifetime—and those were done anonymously.

GB: Thanks, Pat. For those interested in reading some of Pat’s work, sample poems from her new book, The Serial Killer’s Daughter, due out in February, may be found at: www.mainstreetrag.com/store/ComingSoon.php Click “author information” under the cover. And note: the publisher is currently offering a 30% discount on advance sales of books ordered online. Also, be sure to check out her website: www.patriviereseel.com/.

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