Elizabeth Kirschner

Writing Mentor / Manuscript Consultant

"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom"

-Robert Frost

(207) 439-7380


On Mentoring

At Fairfield University, I was fortunate to have Elizabeth Kirschner as a workshop leader.  Her spirit of creativity swept through her workshop and the students wrote imaginative new poems as they revised their other poems.

Then I was doubly fortunate to have her as a mentor for my second semester.  Elizabeth can dive into a poem and find its meaning hidden at the bottom of its sea.  While some other teachers may simply write ‘unclear,’ Elizabeth Kirschner stays with the poems until she understands what her students are reaching for.  With this knowledge that comes from her hard work, she teaches her students the craft of poetry.  Her guidance helped me become a better writer.  She also led me to read books that were important for me to read at that moment.

Elizabeth Kirschner is one of the most devoted and hard working teachers I’ve met.

Wendy Hoffman, student, Fairfield University MFA in Creative Writing

This semester has been my second semester under the mentorship of Elizabeth Kirschner.  I chose her because of the wondrous experience I had with her my first semester in the program.   Truly, I cannot imagine what the MFA Program would have been like for me without her.   She is scholarly and academic, but she goes far deeper into a passion and insight in regards to poetry that is necessary for me.  There are many "good" teachers, but Elizabeth brings to the table deep involvement, presence, light, wisdom, generosity and commitment, making her an extraordinary teacher.  She has the unique talent of being present while at the same time allowing the student to work independently.  She is personable.  She urges one to "see" and "hear" deeply.  She gives the student courage when perhaps the project at hand seems daunting.  She lives as a poet, and everything about her teaching rises from the deep love she feels for poetry, the life-connection she has with poetry, both her own and that of others (her knowledge of poets is vast and extensive).  Learning with her is nearly translucent; as the student reads and writes she guides and listens.  She teaches the student to reach.  I will miss her presence in the program, her ear to my work, my rapport with her, and feel fortunate to have entered the program when I did.  I highly recommend her to any student truly serious about writing, and about reading:  their work will grow. 

Sally Nacker, author of Wings and Windows: My Letter to Amy Lowell

My book simply would not exist without the discerning eye and guiding hands of Elizabeth Kirschner.  Her ability to quickly gauge the feel of individual poems and the collection as a whole allow her to assist in sculpting a successful manuscript from the ground up, offering invaluable insight ranging from basic craft and voice to ordering and section breaks.  Most important to me was her flexibility and willingness to work at the frenetic pace that I required for deadlines.  Even as the deadline approached and more new poems kept coming into the mix, Elizabeth worked with me to hone them and find a place for them.  I was grateful for her candidness when a piece was not working with the collection as a whole, or a line or stanza was going against the grain of the poem it was a part of.  Her clear communication in written feedback and calls let me know exactly what needed to be done to create the collection that would eventually go on to successfully compete on the market.

Colin D. Halloran, author of Shortly Thereafter, a collection of poetry
due out from Main Street Rag, Autumn, 2012

from a letter to a writer:

As I prepared to sit down and begin composing my letter to you, this sentence entered my mind, “I embrace language and it embraces me back.” There is some truth in such a small kernel as the language of poetry is highly sensual and unless we can touch its flesh, it cannot be touched back. The reaching toward, the opening gesture is indeed a movement that ultimately brings us to consummation and surely our poems are acts of consecration, even when violent or violently wrenched from us. So that is my morning thought for you to contemplate.

This suite of poems is beautiful, elegantly and, dare I say lovingly, crafted. I can feel the touch here, the pulse there—each is an artful dwelling for the reader to enter and note the hieroglyphs on the inner walls. Momentarily, I will approach each poem separately and as is due, but first I wanted to talk about metaphor and the need for you to take greater risks, larger leaps when you are able. This aspect of poem-making is dancerly for me—when the word “metaphor” flashes in my brain, I see myself perform the balletic leap and in doing so, I am warming up my being to do the same in my poems.

Here is a piece of discourse between poets Charles Simic and Charles Wright, which attempts to decipher the differences between image and metaphor—useful beyond the utilitarian and profound. I see to a beautiful extreme your fastidious attention to sound, particularly in the craft essays, and I do love things to be beautifully extreme in poetry, so let’s try to layer in a richer and more ample sense of image and metaphor.

And now, Wright says:

“If it is true (and I think it is) that an image is, as Pound put it, an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time, and if ‘the logic of metaphor’ is, as Crane put it, constructed in a series of associational meanings and thought-extension, then the narrative of image and the narrative of metaphor are different, if not generically then surely perceptively, and poems employing them will act and react differently.”

To which Simic replies:

“Image is eye, Metaphor is imagination, intellect…Image leads to Vision, which is a mystic concept. Vision is close to wordlessness. One uses certain kinds of images to escape or transcend language. Like pointing a finger.

Metaphor unravels the imaginative (narrative) possibilities of juxtaposed images. If the final goal of Image is Vision, the final goal of Metaphor is Myth, which is a narrative derived from taking the figuratively literally.

The function of Image is descriptive while the strategy of Metaphor is to divest itself of its function of direct description in order to reach the mythic level, where its function of discovery is set free. Lots of words ensue from that.

Image is about austerity, metaphor about plentitude…”

All this, dear poet, is to help nourish and nurture your Visual Imagination to complement your sophisticated Auditory Imagination. Simply put, when we separate music from poetry and contemplate imagination, we can see in the word itself that a poem is “a nation of images.”

Now to your poems, which are calling to me for a proper response:

In Answer to Your Letter is a pleasing poem that reminds me of the spiritual notion that it serves us well to be “good and pleasing in our thoughts.” You achieve that here—the thoughts and feelings behind the poem emanate and animate it with warmth and light. The arrangement on the page is visually pleasing, too, and although some poems assault both eye and mind, they are difficult to pull off without violating the reader—your strategy clearly lives on the other end of the spectrum. So, you have your poem, your poem’s essence and now what remains is to get it to levitate, hover slightly above the page. Employing image or metaphor with more reach will assist you in this. Opening with a question, draws the reader in like an intake of breath and I love the word “burn” after “icicles” in line three, yet “enchanted” fails me as a descriptive for home as it is an all too easy qualifier. Moving from “birdhouse” in stanza one to “birds-eye” takes me on a delightful tact, but “knives” as a metaphor for “icicles” is too commonplace to take on the associative and even mythic implications offered by its rich milieu. The poetic leap can take us to higher ground whereas the dancer’s leap stays on level ground, must create the illusion of something higher and greater than itself. Poems, too need to be and are most rewarding for the writer, thereby the reader when they are greater than we are. Interesting how you flirt with both fairytale and the Biblical here, successfully I think, although you need not state “a fairytale,” just name it. Since we’ve been prompted into the realm of fairytale, the Biblical turn at the end is most unexpected, therefore thoroughly welcoming.

Taking a child’s POV in A Child Explains is a victorious choice and the perfect one with which to describe the awe and wonder of a giant sunflower. I do, however, feel you can go deeper into that child’s imagination to notate her specific and utterly original “nation of images.” The poem feels a little flat, doesn’t quite lift this extraordinary sunflower out of the ordinary. How to do this? Images, yes, and cultivating the voice of our young speaker. Referring to the Guiness book in stanza one doesn’t do much work for you—for what special purposes is record-keeping through photo and poem intended? Stanza two is much stronger—I so love the fact that the stem had to be sawed! Says so much! I think you can do more with the seed in the next stanza, appropriate image and/or metaphor, begin to suggest an otherworldliness about this seed and its seemingly magical properties.

Likewise, when we come to an actual description of the sunflower’s face in the fourth stanza, the imaginative possibilities here are endless. Yes, do leap, and leap some more! I do love the opening of your last stanza with its sense of scale (I feel littler, too, happily so!) I think, however, you can light a spark in the last line, rise above the pedestrian. I’m ready…it touches the highest peak, then does what? Action, yes, a bit of dramatic action would serve this poem well at its end.

Now, Dentist in Winter, wants to be a deep psychological study. You set the poem up beautifully for this, we are accruing a portrait of a sad dentist ruled by his tools, but I think you back off in your last line, or at least, switch metaphors, when we want you to push further. You have managed to make us care about this dentist and that is a fine achievement, we simply want more. Note how you appropriate water imagery beautiful with the painted sails and that breathtaking simile of snow falling like water. I wonder, then, about the metaphorical ramifications of “summit” at the very end. How do we get from the water (sea?) to a mountain? What are you trying to suggest here? What comprises this dentist’s sense of summit and, finally, why is his sadness distinct to winter. Fine questions to contemplate as questions are good fodder for poems. Answering questions is new and becoming ways can be a grand poetic gesture.

Onto The Lawn Rake which is the great and shining achievement of this batch. I love this poem in o so many ways! It has technical grace, and more importantly, an emotional resonance that ripples far beyond the poem. This is what we are after—a poem that keeps on happening long after it has been read. Such poems can change us and I think readers, too, because they offer themselves to be altered. That you have succeeded in personification of a lawn rake, feelingly so, is just wonderful as personification is a device most often employed by novices with ill or unbelievable effect and here you have mastery. The relationship between father and daughter told from the rake’s POV is delicately played out and, in the end, piercing. The tight, short-lined largely monosyllabic tercets are structurally perfect and using “little bells” as a metaphor for the girl’s laugh, then “stone” as a simile for the rake, are just right. And the shift in meaning in the two instances of “alone” top of page two is artful and heart-full. I wouldn’t touch this poem, merely study it to see all you’ve accomplished. Bravo!

Finally, we come to Artist, which is much further along than you might think. You have created a beautiful sense of longing here, one all of us feel this time of year, the longing to have “quickened recompense” in our plots of earth long hidden from view by snow birthing more snow. I, for one, celebrate each inch of dirt that appears each day, envy my next door neighbor, Lillie, because she has some green nubbins and I still have a snowy mountain, stoic as some old white bear. The glass flower is apt—it stands for all that is fragile and nature and in us and yes, we do want all the broken pieces to “shine, translucent.” You are elucidating meaning here, beautifully so. I do not feel that you need to put quotes around “planted” in line one and love your swerve away from cliché when your March limps in. “Drifts in sheen” is lovely as is this persona’s keen sense of observation and the verb “relents” in stanza three strikes a religious and complex chord. You may want to live more with this one to see if it yields more, or at least until the poem feels complete inside you. In the end, only the poem can release us.