Aracelis Girmay

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, Connecticut College. MFA, New York University. Girmay is the author of three books of poems—the black maria (BOA, 2016), Teeth (Curbstone Press, 2007), and Kingdom Animalia (BOA, 2011)—winner of the Isabella Gardner Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is also the author/illustrator of the collage-based picture book, changing, changing. For the last several years, Girmay was on the faculty of Hampshire College’s School for Interdisciplinary Arts and, before that, taught community writing workshops with young people in New York and California. She has received grants, training, and fellowships in support of her projects from the NEA, the Whiting Foundation, Civitella Ranieri, the Cave Canem Foundation, and the Community~Word Project, among other programs. Girmay is on the editorial board of the African Poetry Book Fund. SLC, 2016

Graduate Courses

Writing 2018-2019

Poetry Workshop: What Else Inside the Voice Inside the Ink?

Workshop—Fall

This course takes its sense from my (our) craft course last semester. Several of the questions centered here are questions that we began to think about last semester, but this new course is new—and folks who either did or didn’t take that course last year are all welcome.

How does a text behave like (or carry) the worlds and questions to which it responds? What Else or Elsewhere can be found inside the ink? How do writers cultivate encounter, observation, history, and imagination to tip and trouble language into experience? In this workshop, we will explore texts that inspire wonder and exemplify the powers of imaginative practice(s). Studying work that is original, strange, wondering, we will consider the gifts of mystery and strangeness in poems. (And here I am hearing Paul Celan in “The Meridian,” translated by Pierre Joris: “The poem estranges. It estranges by its existence, by the mode of its existence, it stands opposite and against one, voiceful and voiceless simultaneously, as language, as language setting itself free….” Together we will work to understand some of the ways in which the texts are working while also engaging in studies that awaken our own idiosyncratic ways of saying and seeing. As a way of learning with assigned materials, participants will be expected to write poems in response to experiments, present beloved texts, and provide peers with thoughtfully considered feedback/observations of their work. The course will be reading- and writing-intensive. It will also be a kind of laboratory for trying and making. Among the artists whose work we will likely study are Simone White, Hélène Cixous, Ilya Kaminsky, Lucille Clifton, Li-Young Lee, Paul Celan, Lucie Brock-Broido, Mary Ruefle, Vievee Francis, J. Michael Martinez, Clarice Lispector, James Baldwin, June Jordan, Cherrie Moraga, Ross Gay, W.S. Merwin, and Kamau Brathwaite. In addition to reading workshop materials by peers, students will read five assigned poetry collections over the course of the semester, along with other assigned texts (a pair of letters, a poem, an essay) every week.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Poetry Craft: Powers of the Strange and Particular: Topics in Craft

Craft—Spring

How can reading or writing a poem be an act of resuscitation? An awakening of one’s “sight,” one’s mind and questions? How do writers cultivate encounter, observation, and imagination to tip and trouble language into experience? In this course, we will explore a range of texts that inspire wonder and exemplify the powers of imaginative practice(s)/strategies. Studying writers whose work is original, strange, wondering, we will consider the gifts of mystery and strangeness in poems (and here I am hearing Paul Celan in “The Meridian,” translated by Pierre Joris: “The poem estranges. It estranges by its existence, by the mode of its existence, it stands opposite and against one, voiceful and voiceless simultaneously, as language, as language setting itself free, as language in statu nascendi—as Valery once said”). Together we will work to understand some of the ways in which the texts are working while also engaging in experiments and studies to awaken our own idiosyncratic ways of saying and seeing. We will read approximately one book of poems a week, along with supplementary materials. As a way of learning with the materials, class participants will be expected to write poems in response to writing experiments, give in-class presentations on assigned topics in craft, and write several short responses/papers to texts. The course will be reading- and writing-intensive. It will also be a kind of laboratory for trying and making. Among the artists whose work we will study are Federico García Lorca, Hélène Cixous, Ilya Kaminsky, Lucille Clifton, Larry Levis, Paul Celan, Lucie Brock-Broido, Vanessa Villareal, Mary Ruefle, Toi Derricotte, J. Michael Martinez, Ross Gay, W.S. Merwin, and Kimiko Hahn. Key topics in craft include: diction, syntax, line, place, metaphor, image, and structure.

Faculty

D U.S. K S: Poetry Craft

Craft—Fall

About the French idiom to describe dusk, Jean Genet writes in Prisoner of Love, “The hour between dog and wolf, that is dusk, when the two can’t be distinguished from each other, suggests a lot of other things besides the time of day…The hour in which…every being becomes his own shadow and thus something other than himself. The hour of metamorphoses, when people half hope, half fear that a dog will become a wolf.” In this course, we will work to cultivate a real community of writers and readers around texts that push us to think about dusk, or the in-between, in a selection of contemporary “U.S.-American” poems/writings. (I am thinking about this sociopolitical moment. I use quotes around “U.S.-American” to point to its/our transnational identities and histories.) Together, we will study poems through this dusky lens and will discuss theoretical texts that push us to think about the various openings, consequences, and implications of The In-Between. We will think about the ways in which craft elements such as diction, line, time, and tense might mark the dusky space of a poem where clarity is slant, obscured, and knowledge-bent—subjects diffused and shifting shape. Readings will vary week to week but, on average, please be prepared to read, in addition to supplementary materials, a book every week to two weeks. Among the writers we will likely read are Bhanu Kapil, Eduardo Corral, Lucille Clifton, Fanny Howe, Claudia Rankine, Jennifer Bartlett, Solmaz Sharif, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Patrick Rosal, Layli Long Soldier, Shane McCrae, and Jean Valentine. In addition to readings, writers will participate in both generative writing experiments and revisions. I believe that, like writing the dream, writing the dusk can alter language and/or how we expect language to behave and that this lens might be a route to possibility with the poems and in one’s daily sight. Class members should be committed to deepening their practice as imaginative (live!) readers, writers, and community members.

Faculty