Becoming Poet: Cornelius Eady


We’re honored to have had the chance to chat with the talented poet Cornelius Eady, author several award winning collections, co-founder of Cave Canem, recipient multiple fellowships, and currently a professor at Notre Dame—here’s what he has to say about his journey of becoming poet.



What’s your relationship to rejection? What was the best one you received? The worst?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to get used to having rejection as a companion; it’s part of the toll you pay, and the freight you haul. But that’s in service to being able to do the work you love to do. It’s simply what happens. I’ve had a good share of both, good and bad, and while I can’t say it doesn’t matter, I can say it hasn’t stopped me.


When did you start calling yourself a poet and why?

I was at a literary awards dinner the other day when one of the recipients made a distinction between being a writer, and being an author. I thought that was interesting-everyone writes, but not everyone gets published, and it’s the transition state of most students enrolled in the various MFA programs across the country. I was a kid/teen-aged poet in my hometown, so claiming the title of being a poet then and there took little risk. Only my parents were concerned. But it was my first poetry workshop, that I took way after I’d been writing solo for a few years, where I started to consider that I might be able to scratch out a living as a writer, and I’ve always counted my professional life as starting with the publication of my first book, Kartunes, in 1980.



What was the journey of getting your first book Kartunes published?

It was sort of dumb luck—which no one likes to admit a great deal of a writer’s career come from. I happened to meet a publisher at an opening reading, Patricia Fillingham, just as she was about to launch Warthog Press. But of course, part of the “luck” was that I had a small clutch of strong poems that caught and kept her attention when I read at the mic.



How do you climb out of a dry spell of writing?

Take a walk, take a nap—distract yourself enough to let your unconscious brain do its stuff. Another quick tip that I got from a friend—change the size and look of the font.



What’s part of your job as a poet that would surprise most people?

The places your writing winds up, and the places it will take you. So far, I’ve been to Kenya, Italy, Brazil, Germany and France, and my work has been translated in to Chinese, Italian, and German. Poetry is almost as universal as music.