BA, Harvard College. MFA, University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Poet; author of Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000); Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004); Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, a New York Times Notable Book of 2008, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and a children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel (Soft Skull Press, 2007). Contributing editor for jubilat and BOMB. Taught at Warren Wilson, the Pratt Institute, and the University of Houston. SLC, 2004–
Current undergraduate courses
In this class, we will look at the use of facts as springboards for poems and lyric essays. We will examine how facts can be transformed, distorted, and framed by the various filters that we use as poets (imagination, diction, formal strategies, etc). The course will be framed by readings from Things That Are by Amy Leach. We will also discuss Revolver by Robyn Schiff, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Brain Fever by Kimiko Hahn, and Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, along with selected lyric essays. For the conference project, students will choose an area of research (a historical figure, a cartoon character, news articles, etc.) and, stemming from their investigations, write a long poem, a series of poems, or an essay that straddles poetry and prose.
Current graduate courses
In this class, we will look at the use of facts as the spring boards for poems and lyric essays. We will examine how facts can be transformed, distorted and framed by the various filters we use as poets (imagination, diction, formal strategies, etc). The course will be framed by readings from Things That Are by Amy Leach. We will also discuss Revolver by Robyn Schiff, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Brain Fever by Kimiko Hahn, and Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald along with selected lyric essays. For their conference project students will choose an area of research (a historical figure, a cartoon character, news articles, etc.) and write a long poem, a series of poems, or an essay that straddles poetry and prose stemming from their investigations.
“Radial, bilateral, transverse: symmetries that change over a life; radical asymmetries. Sea shells unfurl by Fibonacci. Horn, bark, petal: hydrocarbon chains arrange in every conceivable strut; winch and pylon, ranging over the visible spectrum and beyond into ultraviolet and infrared. Horseshoe crab, butterfly, barnacle, and millipede all belong to the same phylum. Earthworms with seven hearts, ruminants with multiple stomachs, scallops with a line of eyes rimming their shell like party lanterns, animals with two brains, many brains, none.” —from The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers
"Here we have the principle of limitation, the only saving principle in the world. The more you limit yourself, the more fertile you become in invention. A prisoner in solitary confinement for life becomes very inventive, and a simple spider may furnish him with much entertainment." —from Either/Or by Kierkegaard
This course is part workshop, part an exploration of writing in established, evolving, and invented forms. We will use An Exaltation of Forms, edited by Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes (featuring essays on form by contemporary poets), alongside books of poetry by writers such as Baudelaire, Anne Carson, D. A. Powell, Haryette Mullen, W. S. Merwin, and Olena Kalytiak Davis to facilitate and further these discussions. You will direct language through the sieves and sleeves of the haiku, sonnet, prose poem, ghazal, haibun, etc. Expect to move fluidly between iambic pentameter and the lipogram (in which you are not allowed to use a particular letter of the alphabet in your poem). Expect to complicate your notion of what “a poem in form” is.
"Metamorphosis is a painful process. I imagine the exquisite agony of the caterpillar turning itself into a butterfly, pushing out eye-stalks, pounding its fat-cells into iridescent wing-dust, at last cracking the mother-of-pearl sheath and staggering upright on sticky, hair's-breadth legs, drunken, gasping, dazed by the light." -from The Untouchable by John Banville
In this poetry workshop we will rigorously attend each poem's metamorphosis, paying attention to whether it wants to sprout wings, antlers, both or neither. We will try to plot out the poem's most unique path according to the signposts the rough draft gives us. Our focus will be both minute and broad—examining poems on a cellular level, then talking about larger issues, like autobiography, science and poetry, compositional techniques… We will also read a number of books of contemporary poetry (by such authors as Anne Carson, Brenda Shaughnessy, Jen Bervin, Jeffrey Yang, and Kevin Young). Students will be asked to extrapolate from these works-detailing the elasticities and limits of each poetic voice in order to further develop their own.