“Tonight is Prufrock,” I say. My friend and colleague, Em*, and I are sitting over cooling coffees in the Student Center.

Her nose scrunches in a way that says that maybe this isn’t such a good idea, “Are you sure you want to start with that one?” she says, “Prufrock is a tough poem. I’ve had some real disasters with Prufrock.”

My coffee is sludge, but I gulp it down anyway, “I’m going in,” I say, “Any last words of advice?” Em is a poet and a scholar of Modernist poetry and thus my go-to person for poetry pedagogy.

She leans forward over the table, all seriousness now, “Guide them through a close reading of the first couple of stanzas yourself before having them take a crack at interpretation. The first stanza seems to be where they get into the most trouble.” More… “The Love Song of Hey Prof”

Susan Lago teaches composition and literature at CUNY / Queensborough Community College. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Noctua Review, Adelaide Magazine, Pank Magazine, Per Contra, Monkeybicycle and Prime Number. She is currently at work on a collection of connected short stories. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter: Susan Ell (@SusanLago).


How does a poet who aims to make his or her expressions timeless react to a contemporary tragedy steeped in politics such as the disaster in the Gulf? — Dr. Sunshine


It’s always tricky when poetry, current events, and politics intersect, but it happens all the time. Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote “An Elegy to Dispel Gloom” after the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. “New York American Spell” is Thomas Sleigh’s reaction to 9/11. I believe these poems achieve a sense of timelessness, but more on how to do that in a moment.

It can seem that timelessness is achieved in part by avoiding politics and current events: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. But how do we really know that “The Road Not Taken” was not Frost’s response to a contemporary tragedy?… More…

I’m pissed that I can’t play my Wii all day to make a living. I’m really good at it. Don’t you think my skills are valuable in the job market? Or do I really have to go to work every day?

— Buddy, New York, New York

You know what? I’m pissed that I can’t write poems all day to make a living! What happened to the days of poet-as-shaman? When the poet was revered and everybody looked to the poet for guidance? When the poet simply needed to impart her wisdom in verse to earn a slice of the bison and a place by the fire? Poets can’t do what they do best these days, which is write poetry. If and when a poet finds a publisher, the first book is not going to make any money, so poets need to supplement their income by teaching, editing,… More…


I am a poet currently in graduate school. I just finished a sestina. Do I owe Dana Gioia any royalties? — A.K., Lincoln, Nebraska

A.K., you owe Dana Gioia no more royalties than you owe to the parent who taught you how to write a grocery list. Gioia uses the sestina form in an effective way that inspires you to write one — he didn’t invent it, just like your mom or dad didn’t invent the grocery list. But their version of the grocery list, the separation of fresh produce on one side and toiletries and paper products on the other side, just makes so much logical sense that you’re inspired to do the same thing. Poets are always happy to hear that they’ve inspired someone — that’s the real royalty. So don’t worry A.K.: You’ve paid up.

I’ve… More…


I hate living in Los Angeles, but I’ve been told that my film career will be best nurtured here. Another place calls me home, where I might suffer for my art in comfort (suffering aside). Should I suffer all the suffering there is here in LA to better tempt my destiny? Do poets ever have this problem? — Mark B., Los Angeles, California

Ah, suffering. The most appropriate answer to your query would use a poet who wrote in L.A., and by most accounts, suffered there: Charles Bukowski.

the words have come and gone, I sit ill. the phone rings, the cats sleep. Linda vacuums. I am waiting to live, waiting to die. I wish I could ring in some bravery. it’s a lousy fix but the tree outside doesn’t know: I watch it moving with the wind… More…


I’m bored.  I’m bored with my job, with my girlfriend, and with the current box office selection. I was hoping your column would be entertaining, but it’s not. Can you help me? — PJ, Phoenix, Arizona

I don’t think you need any help at all, PJ; you’re rather observant. A principle of life is repetition, and repetition, though delightful in the best examples of verse, is often boring. “Life, friends, is boring,” the speaker of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs asserts. “We must not say so./ After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,/ we ourselves flash and yearn,/ and moreover my mother told me as a boy/ (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored/ means you have no/ Inner Resources.’” PJ, your case is not an anomaly, and though you can distract yourself with various Web sites… More…