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Author of the Month: Charles Harper Webb

Published: April 3, 2017

A Million MFAs Are Not Enough

Charles Harper Webb, English

Published in November by Los Angeles-based Red Hen Press, one of the premiere literary publishers in the country, A Million MFAs Are Not Enough is a gathering of Charles Harper Webb’s most important essays on the art and craft of poetry. The title of the book reflects Webb’s view that the audience for poetry should not be confined to specialists and that poetry should not be written just for them. “A million readers with MFAs in poetry-writing would be great,” Webb says. “But I want my audience to include general readers, too. Too many poems today lie on the page as if they’ve been chloroformed. The best poets know how to grab the reader and hold on.” Many of the essays in A Million MFAs began as “craft-talks” first presented at writers’ conferences and aimed at helping poets to write poems of high literary merit that still appeal to a wide readership. All of the essays grew out of Webb’s experience writing and teaching at CSULB. Addressing subjects such as revitalizing narrative, developing an individual voice, increasing energy in poems, achieving emotional power and using humor effectively, Webb intends his essays to help poets “write poems that amaze, enlighten, and at the same time, entertain.” As Webb stated in Publisher’s Weekly, “This does not mean dumbing poetry down but smartening it up so that readers who love excellent prose—whether by literary masters such as Joyce Carol Oates and Tobias Wolff or genre masters such as James Lee Burke or Stephen King—will love your poems, too.” Fittingly, A Million MFAs contains Webb’s groundbreaking “Five Stand Up Poets,” an essay which helped to define and bring national attention to an important style of reader-friendly poetry with strong Southern California/Long Beach roots. Tom C. Hunley, from Western Kentucky University, calls A Million MFAs “the best book on the craft of poetry that I’ve encountered in years.” Grant Hier, from the Laguna College of Arts, states that “Like his poetry, [Webb’s] essays are accessible and entertaining and memorable. This would be a great text for undergraduate poetry workshops and also graduate workshops.” Webb, who joined the CSULB English Department in 1984 with

Charles Harper Webb book image

degrees from Rice University (BA), the University of Washington (MA) and USC (MFA, Ph.D.), has published more than 1,500 poems, many of them in the nation’s most prestigious literary magazines. His work has appeared in four editions of Best American Poetry and he has received numerous awards including fellowships from the Whiting and the Guggenheim Foundations. Eleven collections of his poems have been published by such houses as Northeastern University Press, the University of Wisconsin Press and most recently, the University of Pittsburgh Press. Webb believes that A Million MFAs “is a good companion piece to my poetry.” While admitting that the book is not likely to out-sell King, he declares, “If you are interested in writing better poems yourself, or in gaining a better understanding of contemporary American poetry, this book is for you.” .