© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

3 Rules For Writers From Missouri's New Poet Laureate

Karen Craigo
Springfield's Karen Craigo is Missouri's new poet laureate. She will serve a two-year term.

Karen Craigo is Missouri's new poet laureate. Gov. Mike Parson announced the decision last month that the "Marshfield Mail" editor and general manager will have the two-year position, replacing Aliki Barnstone.

The appointment means a lot of in-state travel, particularly for Craigo, whose project is to collect a poem from every county in the state and post them on her blog, "Better View of the Moon." 

Craigo says she thinks most counties will have a poet who can do the job well.

"I’m just going to try and find them. But those counties that are maybe excessively rural, or there's not a big arts scene where there doesn't seem to be a poet operating, I'll go there and see what I can find to write about it," she says.

Craigo describes herself as "unabashedly a mom" and writes as such. Her books include the titles: "No More Milk," which deals with financial hardship, and "Passing Through Humansville."

Humansville is a town in Missouri not too far from where she lives in Springfield. One early morning when she drove through it, she says, "there were ribbons of fog such that I drove through and bisected the ribbons, and it really seemed to me like a metaphor for the human condition — how we pass through Humansville in our sort of life's journey." 

Credit Karen Craigo
Karen Craigo with her husband, Mike Czyzniejewski, and sons Keats (left) and Ernie (right) Czyzniejewski.

KCUR has a tradition of asking new poets laureate to tell us three of their writing rules. Here are Craigo's:

1. Dare to be stupid.

"You have to write past illogic and past your clichés, and eventually you’ll get to the good stuff. I know when I start writing, I often — when I was younger I used to do this — try to scratch it out and completely obliterate it, because I was so embarrassed by how dumb it was. But I found you have to get through the dumb to get to the good. So, let yourself be stupid; don’t judge yourself too much. Nobody's going to look at that stuff except you. And I think that's crucially important."

2. Move, just move.

"You know how some people talk about having writer's block? And I believe it can possibly be a real thing for some people, but my thinking is that writer's block lives in the butt. The solution to writer's block is to sit your butt down and write. And that means — this actually relates to the first tip — you've got to move your hands. I write by hand with a pen; I like that mind-body connection, but then I revise on the computer, so I can see how things are lining up. But, I've got to get my hand moving — it's just as good to get your fingers moving, but move, just move. Think, write, move.... There's no block to that, unless you have a physical impairment. There's no reason you can't move your pen along the page. Maybe you're drawing pictures, and maybe you're scribbling. Maybe you're writing: 'I stink I stink I stink,' but move that hand, and something's going to come out. And when you have something, you can fix it."

3. Let poetry be in charge.

"I've been an editor for 'Mid-American Review,' that's a nationally prominent literary journal. And I edit the poetry series for Moon City Press here in Missouri. I think it's important to put the writing first and try to publish, because work's not really finished until it has an audience. But people make the mistake of letting publishing sort of take over for them. People ask all the time if it's OK to simultaneously submit, and what the rules are for that, and can they publish a poem they've already published — which I think, by the way, is a ridiculous question unless it's in a book. Write a new poem. Keep writing new poems. The writing is the thing; the publishing is extra. If you do think you have writer's block, it's kind of nice to do some publishing activities to sort of jumpstart yourself; you're still kind of working on the poems that way. But let poetry be in charge, and let publishing be in the backseat. Because publishing, it can make you crazy. You're not in charge of it, you have no control over it, but you've got to keep sending the work out there; don't ever let it get to you. Don't let it hurt your feelings if you don’t get published. If you don’t get published a million times, well publish it yourself; who cares. Walt Whitman did it. You're just as good as Walt Whitman. So got for it."

Follow KCUR contributor at AnneKniggendorf on Twitter, @AnneKniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.