What Sets Tupelo Press Writing Conferences Apart

Many poets have asked me recently about the Tupelo Press Writing Conferences: what sets them apart from other manuscript workshops and writing retreats? What can I expect to come away with?

It’s important to me (and might be to you) to distinguish what Tupelo Press Writing Conferences are about, because great writing is at the heart of any successful publishing career, and because (as you’ll see further on) if you’re to make your manuscript a more successful swimmer in a sea of manuscripts, there are things you need to know.

guest room-2

I’m willing to guarantee you that participation in a Tupelo Press writing conference will be career-changing for you, and it might be worth your while to take a look at the next six short paragraphs before you skip to the tip. As always, I’m happy to answer your questions personally and can be reached here: levine.mentoring@gmail.com.

As Publisher and twenty-year Editor-in-Chief at Tupelo I have helped to establish and have frequently taken part in other manuscript conferences. About 70 of them, to be more-or-less exact. I call this the “hired gun” model. Poet participants gather and work on their manuscripts or packets of poems for a day or two, then publishers from various presses swoop in from on high, give a panel on what goes on at independent presses behind-the-scenes, and then meet with poets in small groups to give them a realistic idea of how publishers might actually read their work—a “real-time reading.” The publishers respond to each manuscript as if it had just landed on their desks, unsolicited, “over the transom.” After a full day of such critiques, the publishers leave the conference, and the poets and their poet-teachers spend another day or two working on the manuscripts, implementing as many new ideas as possible. This is a highly successful model, and I’ve enjoyed the work and appreciate and applaud the genius in conceiving of it.

But participants often tell me that the day with the publishers (their 45 minutes) seems only a tangential, vulnerable, all-too-inconclusive engagement with them and that the guest publishers become essentially unavailable to the poets after the quick sessions are done. So that those participants who hang on their every word for those precious minutes then lose access to the publisher. As teacher at heart, and as a fan of artistic process, in this model, I miss encountering the “before” without seeing the “after.” I miss the continuity of engagement. And I miss the chance for further, deep engagement with the poet and with the work.

truchas horses

Tupelo Press Writing Conferences tend to be intimate (usually around ten participants) and highly intensive. I and the rest of the faculty (if I’m not working alone) are present from the moment we greet you before the first dinner through the farewell breakfast. We move between roles as the moment demands: as publishers, editors, teachers, critics, and fellow poets. We dine together, share our stories, our work, and our experience. Before and after our working sessions, we’re available to talk with you about your concerns as writers: about etymology or the “poe biz” or about which presses or journals are right for you. Or we might talk about kids or gardening or the supermoon or Bob and Rex, the horses in the pasture outside the library window. Or our favorite Dickinson poem. (Right now, #325 “There came a Day – at Summer’s full – “ and #432 “I read my sentence – steadily –“ are gobbling up my attention.)

I bring to the Conferences my twenty years of experience (a) as founding Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Tupelo Press, (b) as reader of thousands (yes, thousands) of manuscripts every year, (c) as leader of hundreds of workshops, and (d) as mentor to dozens and dozens of successful poets. Poets who come to me for guidance want to make important breakthroughs, to earn their way into an ideal readership, to see their work in print in esteemed venues. I am committed to helping poets come as close as possible to those goals. Through my teaching and mentoring I have helped more brave poets than I can count get their poems and books published, as together we unlock the secrets of mastering the art of writing.

I also join you in these Conferences as a fellow poet. My own new manuscripts sit on the shelf behind the desk where I write this. Those pages challenge me to enter and re-vision them, to “do something with them,” just as yours challenge you. Empathy fuels my teaching and mentoring. I leave these weekends with the same mix of feelings that other participants report: somehow at once exhausted and energized, ready to reenter the work, to find what Emerson called the sanity and the revelations of solitude, “up again, old heart!”

Because we know how intense these weekends can be, we have chosen the locations of our conferences with care: on the Maine seacoast (September), high up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico (October/November). The salt air, the desert breeze, the rosemary- and sage-scented sunsets feed the senses and the soul as we engage together in the important work of reading and writing and revising: the work of being a poet. Candor and compassion arise naturally from these places of beauty.

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