Writing Tip by William Archila


Early morning, sit at the desk and read.  Read all kinds of poets, from different periods, different styles, different countries.  Listen for a voice that speaks to you, one that shows you what you normally don’t see.  When you find the poem, write your own version of it.  Follow the poem as a blue print focusing on an element you feel a strong connection with, whether it’s an image or metaphor that you’re tracking or a sound pattern that you’re trying to emulate.  For example, you can follow the changes of an object as in the changes of the moon in Robert Hayden’s “Full Moon” or mimic the rhetorical patterns in Philip Levine’s “They Feed They Lion.”  Do this, not to imitate, but to internalize the poem’s technique and the poet’s method.  When you’re done writing your first draft, put it away and come back to it later when you feel completely detached from it. Revise and shape the poem into your own, looking for moments that reveal your individual voice.  If the poem reveals something about yourself that you didn’t know, chances are that it’s a good poem.  Let the poem be your best teacher.

Biography of William Archila: Archila was born in Santa Ana, El Salvador.  He earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon.  His poems have been published in The George Review, AGNI, Poetry International, The Los Angeles Review, and Notre Dame Review, among others.  In his first book, The Art of Exile, Archila asks readers to engage with a subject seldom explored in American poetry:  the unrest in El Salvador in the 1980s and its impact on Central American immigrants who now claim this country as home.  As Yusef Komunyakaa, Pulitzer-prize winning poet, said of Archila’s work:  “A poet of the heart and head, of the personal and the public, at times William Archila’s poignant poems make me hear Pablo Nerudo and Cesar Vallejo.”  Archila will be reading at Skylight Bookstore on November 8th, and at Beyond Baroque on December 18th.


One thought on “Writing Tip by William Archila

  1. William,

    I agree. It seems it is necessary to read from great authors because we live in a world where we are barraged by empty rhetoric and what I call “jabber.” In order to nurture that internal voice, one must read. Just as it is important for an artist to emulate artists that came before in order to find their own painting style. Learn to walk before running.

    Cecile Sarruf

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