Exploring the Art and Business of Poetry

That answer won praise from Leigh Pinkston of the Lazarus Center for Career Development, who was playing the role of interviewer. “You came off as confident,” said Pinkston, the center’s assistant director for affinity advising. “You’d have gotten the job!”

Surprisingly, this practice interview didn’t take place in an office suite, but in an interterm poetry course.

“The Art and Business of Poetry” is designed to help students explore career paths in poetry, including graduate study and submitting work for publication.

Through self-reflective workshop sessions and presentations by guest speakers, the course “covers information that will be vital for students who are going out into the world with hopes of having a life and a career in poetry,” says instructor Matt Donovan, who is director of Smith’s Boutelle-Day Poetry Center.

Delving into the “business” side of poetry isn’t as much of a reach as it might seem, he adds.

“It’s easy to think of poetry as a poster child for an impractical career route, but I would argue that the opposite is true,” Donovan says. “What poetry affords are creative skill sets that are applicable and desirable in any field.”

Isabel Cruz ’24 says she enrolled in the course to explore a different facet of a world she’s been involved in for some time. A theatre and English major who has been performing and teaching poetry since high school, Cruz felt the interterm class would “help to round out the knowledge necessary for me to thrive in the world of poetry beyond writing and performance”—particularly how to publish a body of work.

English major Juliet Schulman-Hall ’22 was eager to hear from writers, editors and publishers appearing as guest speakers for the class—among them, poet Jessica Jacobs ’02, activist and essayist Franny Choi and poetry editor Nathan McClain of the Massachusetts Review.

She was also drawn to the opportunity to explore the practical side of poetry.

“Poetry has often been framed to me as a pastime, not a career,” notes Schulman-Hall, who is currently an intern at the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center. “What makes this interterm course so special is getting to know the motivations, struggles and ideas of professionals—which, in turn, helps guide me as a writer.”

The course aimed to connect students in the humanities with career resources, such as those offered by the Lazarus Center. In her presentation, Pinkston emphasized that students can sign up at any time for advising sessions at the center, or drop in for deadline-driven help with cover letters.

Questions from the poetry students came fast and furious in the Zoom chat: Should class projects be listed on a resume? Is it okay to indicate your preferred pronouns? What’s the best way to explain employment gaps caused by the pandemic?

Pinkston’s answers: Include class projects in an experience or skills section on a resume; it’s fine to share your pronouns; most employers will be understanding about pandemic-related gaps— and if they aren’t, you might want to reconsider working for them.

She advised students to “practice, practice, practice” talking about their professional goals and work styles, and to put time into writing thoughtful cover letters.

Most importantly, Pinkston encouraged students to be themselves in a career search. To help them do so, she shared a list of skills to review as a self-reflective exercise before going on interviews.

The inventory included qualities that might not instantly come to mind in a job search, including critical thinking, curiosity, empathy and hope.

And, as Donovan summed up, “poetry applies to all of those!”



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