Becoming a Poet:
The Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program

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 2021—conducted completely online—including a series of core workshops and craft talks with veteran Brooklyn Poets teacher and 2018–20 Stegner Fellow Jay Deshpande, as well as three elective workshops with other Brooklyn Poets teachers. 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.

Three-Part Core Workshop Curriculum

The Mentorship Program curriculum consists of three core workshops, wherein writers will generate, revise and edit new work; develop a book 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 relationship to traditional verse forms as well as nontraditional, experimental uses of the page. Students will write and receive feedback on a new poem every week, learning 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: “The Knots We Make Ourselves”
The second six-week generative workshop will be built on the idea that once a poet begins to find a voice and style, the next step is learning how to challenge and complicate one’s own work. Students will write and receive feedback on a new poem every week, striving to recognize their tendencies, strengths and limitations—and then to subvert them, as they learn how to push themselves and expand their lyric toolkit.

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’s poems, 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. Students will also learn about the submission and publication process for manuscripts as they look to build a sustainable writing practice and succeed in the professional literary world.

Mentorship Sessions

Jay Deshpande teachingMany 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 2021, 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 January 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 three weeks to discuss their writing progress and to focus on specific avenues for development. In addition to this individualized guidance, students will meet in small reading cohorts during these nine-week intervals to work through collaborative reading lists, honing their ability to learn from a range of poetic styles and perspectives. 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.

Craft Talks

One of the key elements of graduate study in poetry is the opportunity to learn more about the craft in non-workshop settings. To this end, the Brooklyn Poets Mentorship Program will feature four core craft talks led by Deshpande over the course of the year, along with four additional craft talks led by other Brooklyn Poets faculty and visiting writers invited to speak in 2021. Each talk will focus on an essential element of the craft and will work in lockstep with the program’s core workshops and mentorship sessions.

Craft Talk #1 (March): Prosody and Its Decolonization

Craft Talk #2 (May): Poetic Turns and the Shape of the Poem

Craft Talk #3 (September): I and Others: The Necessity of Identity in Contemporary American
Poetry

Craft Talk #4 (November): A Poet in the World: Making a Life and Seeking Discipline

Elective Workshops

Shira Erlichman teachingA 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 test and complicate what they’ve learned in the company of other writers with diverse experiences outside their core cohort.

Graduation Ceremony

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 audience.

Program Calendar

January 12, 2021
Welcome Meeting
January 13–29
Mentorship Sequence #1: Entrance Interviews
February 1–March 8
Mondays, 6:30–9:30 pm (est)
Core Workshop #1: Thinking in Form
March 14
Sunday, 4–7 pm (est)
Craft Talk #1: Prosody and Its Decolonization
March 22–May 21
Mentorship Sequence #2
May 23
Sunday, 4–7 pm (est)
Craft Talk #2: Poetic Turns and the Shape of the Poem
June 1–July 6
Tuesdays, 6:30–9:30 pm (est)
Core Workshop #2: The Knots We Make Ourselves
July 12–September 10
Mentorship Sequence #3
September 12
Sunday, 4–7 pm (est)
Craft Talk #3: I and Others: The Necessity of Identity in Contemporary American Poetry
September 20–November 8
Mondays, 6:30–9:30 pm (est)
Core Workshop #3: Manuscript Conception and the Expanded View
November 14
Sunday, 4–7 pm (est)
Craft Talk #4: A Poet in the World: Making a Life and Seeking Discipline
November 29–December 17
Mentorship Sequence #4: Exit Interviews
December 19
Sunday, 5 pm (est)
Graduation Ceremony

About the Mentor

Jay  DeshpandeJay 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 fourteen of his workshops and mentorship courses since that time. He is our most sought-after mentor on the Bridge.