The Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program provides developing writers with twelve months of immersive training in becoming a poet under the sustained guidance of a mentor. Within the comfort of a small cohort, the twelve students selected for the program will embark on a curriculum of intensive study over the course of 2023—conducted completely online—leading to a certificate of training. This will include a series of core workshops and craft labs with veteran Brooklyn Poets teacher and 2018–20 Stegner Fellow Jay Deshpande, as well as elective workshops and craft labs with other Brooklyn Poets teachers and guest speakers. Through this course of study, students will
Most importantly, students will develop their individual voices in focused, one-on-one mentorship sessions with Deshpande throughout the year.
At the core of the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program is the belief that individual writers find their voices most effectively when provided with consistent, invested relationships, both with a mentor and with peers. Sustained, individualized mentorship in particular is often conspicuously absent from MFA programs. Our program provides poets with all the necessary elements to find their footing in the professional literary world—one of the most difficult things for poets to navigate upon starting out. We believe that after graduating our students will be ready to publish their work, connect with other poets and build community, and continue evolving as writers making meaningful work in the world.
The Mentorship Program curriculum consists of three core workshops, wherein writers will generate, revise and edit new work; develop a manuscript; and provide meaningful, in-depth feedback for one another.
Winter-Spring: “Thinking in Form”
In this first six-week generative workshop, students will focus on strengthening their understanding of traditional verse forms as well as nontraditional, experimental uses of the page. Students will write and receive feedback on a new poem every week while building a shared language for talking about form and content. By the end of the course, students will have learned not only to write in accordance with formal conventions but to play with them, and to recognize the underlying logic, music and impetus for different arrangements of language.
Summer: “Apprenticeship and Self-Fashioning”
The second six-week generative workshop will focus on crystallizing a sense of one’s voice. Students will help one another to better understand the signatures of their individual styles, then use that knowledge to refine key features of their work. Additionally, each student will draw upon their immersive reading of a poetic master as a way to think about what a signature style might mean (how to imitate it, and how to fight against it). To help everyone to begin thinking on a larger scale, the workshop will conclude with each student presenting a short chapbook of their work so far.
Fall: “Manuscript Conception and the Expanded View”
The core workshop sequence will conclude with an eight-week manuscript workshop, wherein students will revise and edit earlier work with an eye to assembling a chapbook or full-length collection of their poems. Since the cohort will now have spent eight months reading one another, conversations will expand beyond the concerns of individual poems to think holistically about the organization, obsessions and psychology of each writer’s body of work. In turn, the writers will also take a more active role in asking questions of their readers and seeking the feedback they need in order to develop and advocate for their work.
Many developing writers find that what they need the most is the consistent presence of a mentor or coach to guide them on their individual paths. Our program’s sequence of mentoring sessions fills this need. Throughout 2023, each poet will meet regularly with Jay Deshpande to discuss their work, questions and concerns. These meetings will provide sustained one-on-one guidance, including individualized writing prompts and reading suggestions.
Mentorship will begin in February when each student will meet with Deshpande for an entrance interview, during which the two will work collaboratively to plan goals for the year. Then, between the three core workshops, students will conference with Deshpande every 2–3 weeks to discuss their writing progress and focus on specific avenues for development. At the end of the year, students will meet with Deshpande for an exit interview, to assess their development and plan concretely for the future.
In addition to this individualized guidance, students will learn through collaborative and self-directed study. Each student will commit to reading the full oeuvre of one master poet over the course of the year, providing the powerful experience of immersion in the voice of a poetic ancestor. During the mentorship intervals, students will meet in small reading cohorts to work through reading lists together, strengthening their foundations in topics including the Romantic poets, Black lyric and experimental traditions, and debut books of poems.
One of the key elements of graduate study in poetry is the opportunity to learn more about craft in non-workshop settings. To this end, the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program will feature two core craft labs led by Deshpande over the course of the year, along with six additional labs led by other Brooklyn Poets faculty and visiting writers invited to speak in 2023. Each lab will focus on an essential element of the craft and work in lockstep with the program’s core workshops and mentorship sessions.
Core Craft Lab #1 (April): I’s and You’s (and Why’s): How Pronouns Function in Lyric Poems
Core Craft Lab #2 (September): Syntax, or the Poet’s Signature
A poet needs to be various. It’s essential to learn a variety of approaches to poetry from a variety of teachers and peers. Only through this process can a writer come to recognize their own voice, determine what they need and make the most of cross-fertilization. To this end, our students will have the opportunity to take three elective workshops with other Brooklyn Poets faculty throughout the year, alongside the three core workshops with Deshpande. This will allow them to develop mastery in subject areas beyond the core curriculum of the program and to further customize their learning experience depending on their individual interests. It will also give students the chance to challenge and complicate what they’ve learned in the company of other writers with diverse experiences outside their core cohort.
The yearlong program will conclude in December with a final public reading. Each graduate will be personally introduced by Deshpande and present their work to a large virtual audience. Upon completion of the program, each graduate will receive a certificate of training.
Jay Deshpande is the author of Love the Stranger (YesYes Books, 2015), named one of the top debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers, and the chapbooks The Rest of the Body (YesYes Books, 2017) and The Umbrian Sonnets (PANK Books, 2020). A 2018–20 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and the winner of the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award and Narrative‘s Annual Poetry Contest, he has also received fellowships from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri, and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, New Republic and New England Review, among many other places. He is an advisory editor for Northwest Review and writes criticism for Guernica, Pleiades, Kenyon Review and Boston Review. He holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has taught workshops for Poets House, the Academy of American Poets and Columbia’s MFA program. Deshpande started teaching for Brooklyn Poets in 2017, quickly becoming one of our most popular teachers and selling out all of his workshops and mentorship courses since that time.
“The Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program is life-changing. As a mentor and a person, Jay is incredibly generous, nurturing and kind. The program helped me build a poetry practice that sustains all other areas of my life, instead of just trying to slap poems together after-hours on my own. Incredibly generative, life-changing—demanding, but totally worth it. It really has been such an honor to be a part of the inaugural cohort! I’m a week and half away from finishing my manuscript and I CANNOT believe it’s real. When I first started the program, I scoffed at the idea of finishing a manuscript in one year, but now that it’s here, I’m …. low-key crying every day because it’s such a blessing to finish my own and read others’ work, too! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
—Leo Aquino, Class of 2021
“Proud to be one of the first in the tradition of the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program! My writing process, practice and production in getting poems down on the page improved 100%. Highly recommended for those committed to the art of poetry and literary citizenship, no matter how you experience it.”
—Angela Lockhart-Aronoff, Class of 2021
“The Brooklyn Mentorship Program has been a critically important touchstone for me throughout this tumultuous year. The virtual aspect of this program gave me a rare, perhaps entirely unique opportunity to come back and commit to poetry after years of approaching my craft with hesitation and also facing barriers to accessing literary spaces. I have been challenged, engaged and encouraged by my mentor, peers and teachers in ways that have burst open what I have thought I was capable of. I want to express gratitude to Brooklyn Poets for their work in making it possible to offer me a scholarship, which enabled me to work with many talented and, most importantly, truly generous poets living across the world.”
—Rae Willem Henaghan, Class of 2021
“If you are considering an MFA to further your craft, consider the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program. Its holistic and intensive approach will bring you to new heights as a poet and critical reader. The program’s mentor, teachers and students are warm and supportive, and the curriculum is thoughtful and varied. Being a part of the Mentorship Program has elevated my writing in a way I didn’t think was possible in just one year.”
—Dan Varley, Class of 2021