Tell us three interesting things about yourself that most people don’t know.
I was the high school prom queen (it was kind of a joke, but I sincerely wanted a free tiara for my collection). I’m the third of four sisters, and we were all born within four and a half years of one another (yes, my parents are Catholic), so it sometimes feels like I’m a quadruplet. I read tarot cards.
Why drew you to teaching for the Rutgers School of Social Work?
First, Miriam Jaffe, who had been one of my mentors in the English Department Writing Program and is largely responsible for developing the innovative writing curriculum in the DSW program. I love teaching writing to students who are a force for social change in the world, and it’s fun to teach multimedia tricks and tools and to think about ways to connect the students’ work with wider audiences.
Why do you think it’s important for academics to know how to write well? To present their work in a multimedia form?
As a poet who is also an academic, I think a lot about clarity. Poets are always riding that line between complexity and ambiguity: you want to open up language to mystery, but you don’t want it to be impossible for your readers to grasp the possible meanings. To be clear doesn’t have to mean being plain, stripped-down, boring: you can write clearly and with style, and that’s my favorite kind of academic writing.
As for multimedia presentation, I like to frame it like this: If the word “photography” means “writing with light,” then multimedia writing means writing with visual, auditory, and other interactive elements. It can involve text, too, but will often go beyond that. In the DSW program, I’ve found that these tools allow students to illuminate the lived experience of their clients in a direct and powerful way.
What do you do when you’re not teaching (i.e. other jobs, volunteer work, etc.)?
Right now, I’m running a lecture series called Tiny Talks at a poetry bookstore called Berl’s in the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. The speakers give a ten-minute talk on poetry related to a theme, which changes monthly. This fall the themes have been Failure, Safety, Ruins, and Magic.
What’s your teaching philosophy?
I put a lot of focus on process. Drafting, skill-building, gathering feedback, revising, re-envisioning. Sometimes, students who are more goal-oriented struggle with this, because they want to imagine a final product and work methodically toward it. But I’ve found that the focus on process will often lead them toward final projects that they couldn’t have conceived of in advance, and ultimately this is more exciting for them (and for me!).
How do you maintain your personal writing life as a poet and an artist with the demands of everyday life?
I can’t say I’ve found a great solution for this, but one thing I do is try to get it in the calendar—in other words, I schedule writing meetups alongside other obligations. If I have a writing group to attend and I need to bring a poem, suddenly I’m writing a poem that week. Over the summer I hosted a weekly Poetry Happy Hour in the backyard of a bar, and poets dropped in with drafts of poems and passed them around for comments. You left with a page stuffed with notes. It was a great way to get some input on final revisions of poems that went into my latest book, Empire Wasted.
Favorite poets and writers?
This question is only hard because there are too many. I’ll try to leave my peers out of it and focus on those poets and writers from earlier generations whose work has influenced me: Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, Diane di Prima, Frank O’Hara, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson.
Where do you draw your inspiration for writing?
Your life is always changing and so is the world, so I try to pay attention to all of that, which sounds easy in theory but turns out to be difficult in practice. The poets I named above taught me to “include everything” (which also happened to be the title of my dissertation in the Rutgers English PhD program), meaning that I see poetry as an art form that can and does expand to encompass whatever exists in the world. So my poems include brand names and internet slang, for example, alongside figurative language and more traditional poetic material.
Any general advice about writing for practitioners?
Experiment. Listen to the weird soundbytes in your head. Steal language from the powerful, poke holes in it, and repurpose it. Write it all down before it slips away.