"I think for a lot of young writers, in particular, especially those coming out of MFA mills (and especially the programs that don’t quite “get” contemporary poetry, which is to say most of them), I think the transition to becoming a practicing writer can be a daunting, even crushing task. It’s when most people stop writing. They find that the context they had for poetry in school no longer exists in the “real” world and don’t know how to build one out of whole cloth. These are the people for whom contests exist, and it’s why I think they’re ultimately damaging. For one thing, the odds are preposterous. For another, unless they actually know the work of the judge, and know who the judge is, there is no way to ascertain if there is any reasonable expectation of even being competitive. They send in their money and their manuscript, they hope and they can feel crushed if they lose, sometimes again & again & again. Where if they would just get together with their friends and publish one another, they would be making enormous headway much more quickly. And their books would be reaching the right audiences. Which is (again) why it’s far better to have a volume published by Pressed Wafer, if you’re a New England poet, than in the Yale Younger Poets Series."
-- from Ron Silliman's Blog
I loved this exerpt so much I had to pirate it from a fellow blogger friend of mine (I hope you don't mind, Carol). I can relate to coming out of college and finding that my inspiration doesn't come as easily as it did, where I was once surrounded by like-minded souls, that academic atmosphere. I have had to find it in other places, maybe not whole cloth so much as in patches and swatches.
I have even thought about getting my MFA in Creative Writing sometime in the near future, not to have the title but to further develop and challenge my writing. Otherwise, I feel that my writing might inbreed and turn sterile without some fresh genes infused into it. Plus, I would get a 10% raise as a teacher for holding a masters degree. That's the selling point to my wife and family, who may see my poetry writing as a hobby.
As for looking to poetry groups for fostering and inspiration, they are great when you can find people that nurture and help feed you, and visa versa. When you get a room full of writers together, the air seems denser from the weight of everyone's ego (come on, you know it's true! I've been guilty of feeling self-important, too). I have also learned from experience that I have to have a tough skin when it comes to sharing my work, regardless of whether it is an editor, a judge in a writing contest, or my own peers, taking criticism with a grain of salt. I can choose to use that salty criticism for seasoning and consideration, despite how much it stings, or I can toss it over my shoulder like it was spilt on the table. Either way, I have to tell myself that I love what I do and that's why I do it. Publishing is just the final step in the writing process. One must take it or the other steps are futile.