I'm going to go ahead and use the word "blessed" even in the face of the jaded masses, because I feel unashamedly blessed to have landed my dream job as a new Assistant Professor of English at Northern Michigan University. This semester I'm teaching Native American Poetry & Novels and also leading the Graduate Poetry Workshop. I'm also on the Center for Native American Studies Faculty Committee and I'm the new Poetry Editor for the literary journal Passages North and the new Reviews Editor for the journal As Us: A Space for Women of the World and I'm also overwhelmed and lonely and way more broke than I expected. They have a Dollar Tree store here, though, so I'm good on the Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich front.
Mostly I've been thinking about what it means to "teach creative writing" now that I'm teaching grad students in an M.F.A. program. And (especially) what does it mean to teach poetry writing in politically unsettling times, which is basically all of the time. So on the morning of our first workshop, I emailed the poet who'd taught me the most and we both agreed that we were unsure as to whether or not poetry writing (or any of the arts) can truly be "taught." I feel more like a conductor of a very strange symphony and I have the crazy hair to prove it, thanks to the humidity demons.
No, the closest I think I come to a "poetry workshop plan" is a strategy for cultivation: I'm imagining that the poets are meta-consciously wobbling around in petri dishes of language and all I can do is try to foster thoughtful conditions for each of them to thrive. Kind of like bacteria. What it means to "thrive" as a poet looks and sounds very different for each voice, each life, each place. Thinking back, too, my best creative writing teachers were always simultaneously unsettling and comforting. They gave me tough love feedback and lots of weird shit to read, and occasionally-- because of them or perhaps in spite of them-- I would fall in love with language all over again because of a single word.
It's beautiful here in Michigan's U.P., and also terrifying: ideal poetry conditions for a 32 year-old Xicana/Irish goth chick who left behind a parched land and moved across the continent to a place so far from the sun that it invents a new kind of winter each year. As I drove along I-80, I swear I could see California in flames in my rearview mirror.
The fire isn't a metaphor, but the aforementioned petri dish is, and whenever I feel homesick for loud sunlight and ashes, Bay Area black metal and the radioactive sea, I have to remind myself of why I'm here on Anishinaabe land. The "why" has everything to do with giving a damn about language and story, breath and song and that's as good a reason as any to leave a life behind.