steer clear of english

Paris Review: Would you like to give any advice to young writers?

Peter Levi: Yes. Steer clear of the writing departments of universities. Steer clear of English. Learn foreign, preferably dead languages, but learn them properly. Do not be a wastrel, don’t just hang about the world. Poetry is about life. The quality of your poetry will be the quality of your life. And you can’t regulate that by a knob. Read. Get or get near a very good library. Take more notice of Randall Jarrell than you do of any academic critic. Don’t spend time attacking other writers. Dig to the bottom of your mind, and don’t give two damns about publications.

Writing is like breathing or it ought to be. One’s got to write poems. Like one has to go to church. Not out of social duty, or because there’s any pressure on one to do so. Not even out of reaction to people who say one shouldn’t do so. But just because of some decent, natural good behavior. One might as well go on with it.

- Peter Levi, in interview with The Paris Review in 1976, just after Levi had left the Jesuit order to get married. You can read the whole thing here.

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