David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: MFA in the Palm of Your Hand


Released just the other day, the new Paris Review app is slender, simple and, for the cost of absolutely nothing, is already worth as much, nay more, than any MFA education now on the market. Why? Because the free app gives you access to an amazing assortment of the magazine’s storied interviews from the 1950s to the current issue.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not MFA hater. Writers should do whatever they want to be writers. But I don’t care what MFA program you went to, are attending, or hope to attend, you will never get that much advice, insight, and joie de vive about the process of writing than you will from downloading this app, shutting the door to your studio, focusing on what matters to you as a writer — your artistic compulsions, concentrations, empathies, and fierce loyalty to language — and set about to reading. And if you have no interest in attending graduate school to become a writer…well, here you are, late 20th century’s Faculty from Parnassus. It’s the iLiterature syllabus extraordinaire.

To have this resource, this treasure on my tablet, man, it’s like wandering inside the pixilated brain of world literature. It’s like the crib notes for a Literary SAT of the imagination. It’s like thinking to yourself in the morning that you’d like to get a thought by Auden in your head for the rest of the day, and then swipe, tap, dink, dink: “If I had to ‘teach poetry,’ which, thank God, I don’t, I would concentrate on prosody, rhetoric, philology, and learning poems by heart.”

Sure, the archive has been online for a few years. But reading at the tabletop or on the laptop is just so ’90s, isn’t it? I got the Paris Review app for my phone, too, but it would have to be one, interminable wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles for me to accept squinting at it that long. Translation: My reading eyes are shot. Bu t— on a desert island, now, that would be different. A desert island, that is, with electrical power to recharge my phone so that, sure, then I could tough out the small print.

A taste: You can begin your studies in the 1950s with E. M. Forster and T. S. Eliot and Francois Mauriac (“Sartre expressed the despair of his generation. He did not create it.”) and, hmm, Irwin Shaw and, very nice, Robert Penn Warren, then all through the decades — Mary McCarthy in 1962 and Borges in 1967, Dickey in ’76 and Didion in ’78, Elizabeth Bishop in 1981 and Brodsky in 1982 — the talk goes on and it is fabulous.

The rest of the app is OK. There’s a link to the magazine’s blog and a link to past issues that you’ll have to purchase, and then some books. They’re OK. But the interviews. Seriously enriching. With no graduate student loans. The path to your literary knowledge fits right in your hand. Now, University of Michigan Press, I’m talking to you: How about putting the Poets on Poetry series into an app next?

David Biespiel is a poet, literary critic, memoirist, and contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate, among other publications. He is the author of numerous books, most recently The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. More from this author →