26 July 2005

Props are for Profs


Thanks to Aimee I've been thinking a lot about my own poetic awakening lately. The locus was the fabulous Sea Nymph fountain at the University of Michigan. It must've been my second semester of undergrad, because I was taking my first poetry workshop. I had purchased a bunch of poetry books from Shaman Drum, and sitting by the fountain all of a sudden I had a good old fashioned epiphany. I wanted to write poetry. I wanted to teach poetry writing. And I didn't want to do anything else.

Over ten years later, and that epiphany still drives me. I don't think it would've been possible without the amazing professors who helped me keep my momentum (I went from kindergarten through MFA and Ph.D. without taking a break from school, other than summers working in a coffeehouse).

At U of M, Thylias Moss was an inspiration, and I still use "There Will Be Animals" with my intro to poetry writing classes. During my MFA at Bowling Green State U, Sharona Muir taught me the meaning of the semicolon, and how to keep a small graduate workshop lively. And finally, Michael Anania at UIC, who was the first person who really understood what I was writing about. Without him, I might not have stuck with it. So thank you, wonderful professors of yesteryear!

Who else had a prof or high school teacher who made a difference? Let's start a little love fest here...

11 comments:

Archambeau said...

I'd give props to Dennis Cooley, back in Canada, for being amazingly encouraging to people interested in poetry. He and his colleagues David Arnason and Robert Kroetsch knew that western Canada wasn't going to get much play with the literary establishment, and they spent years making their own homegrown scene, with its own press (Turnstone), journals (notably Prairie Fire) and the like. Go to bookstores out there and you'll see sections of Prairie writing the way you see Southern writing in Mississippi. And when Dennis and company made this playground, they were glad to open it to everyone.

Later, there were my two great mentors, John Matthias and Michael Anania. John directed my MFA and PhD theses, and Michael (though I never studied at UIC) has been a sort of ad-hoc director of whatever I've been working on since.

Kendra said...

Hi Mary :) I had an english teacher my senior year in high school who was absolutely amazing! I had never been excited about writing papers or reading and analyzing books until I had her for a teacher. I think it's awesome that one person can make such a difference and light such a fire and passion for learning. She's the reason that I went back to school and finished my college degree :)

Jenna from Texas said...

I'm back to your blog world after creating a new name - I lost my other account and can't find it!

I hate to admit it, but there were more teachers that did a disservice to me than those who believed in me. But a good one that comes to mind is Senora Guzman, a nutty woman who was my sophomore high school Spanish teacher. I had been so discouraged with my previous Spanish teachers, and I had just wasted 2 years attempting to learn Latin (bad idea), when Senora Guzman took me under my wing. She believed in me, I excelled, and I ended up majoring in Spanish in college. I use it daily even now. That is the only teacher that really sticks out to me for some reason.

SillyWhimsical said...

It's sad, I can't remember her name. I do remember she had us read soooooo many different books and each one she loved for different reasons. She always had great discussions with us and always opened my eyes to different points of view.

Melissa said...

What exactly is the meaning of the semicolon? Just curious...

Byf said...

Believe it or not, Mrs. Choate, even though she wasn't that great of a teacher, made a big impression on me. (For those who didn't attend Central Intermediate, Mrs. Choate taught ninth-grade English.) Mostly because she gave me the English Award, which made me think, hmmm, maybe I can do this writin' thing.

Then, of course, Amy Hutchinson became my newspaper adviser in high school, and here I am now, at one of the nation's top newspapers. She was fricking awesome.

Unfortunately, no college profs left a very big mark. Probably because I didn't study writing in college -- everything I learned I got from high school and real experience.

P. J. said...

For me, it started sophomore year of high school with an interesting world history instructor, Dr. Joseph Krok; not many high-schoolers can say they've had a Ph.D. teach them anything, but luckily I did because he's the reason I wanted one of my own. Then as an undergrad at Bowling Green, Barb McMillen (http://www.bfmcmillen.com/) didn't kick me out of her Modern Poetry class, so that was nice of her, considering it was my first. And Stephen Gurney, up at Bemidji State U. in MN, gave me the great advice when I asked if I should drop out of school to move back to Ohio and date *Sonya*. He said "do what Ben Jonson would do," and since I hadn't been paying attention all semester, he clarified, "be Cavalier!" and I did. If I hadn't dropped out of school then and transferred a year later to Bowling Green, I wouldn't be writing this comment right now b/c Mary and I wouldn't have met.

Matthew Thorburn said...

Hey Mary,
That IS the best fountain around... I once wrote a short story about it (back when I thought I was a fiction writer).

Yes yes, Thylias was a great inspirer -- both in her undergrad workshops and then also in her advice when I was trying to decide where to apply for my MFA. I also especially remember Keith Taylor as a very important teacher for me at Umich. During my MFA, David Trinidad stands out as someone who was a great teacher and encourager. This was at The New School, but now he's at Columbia in Chicago...

Justin Evans said...

I am a complete stranger, having found a link to you from Sillman's blog, but I wanted to say that the one persn who had the greatest impact upon me as a writer is Dave Lee. Former Poet Laureate of Utah, he was one of my professors for two, count them, only two classes: Intro to Poetry, and Methods of Teaching English. In those courses, and our resulting friendship, I learned more about writing than from any other teacher. I majored in History, minored in English, and now teach high school. My master's is in Literacy Studies, but my poetry continues to grow and move closer to the mark because of Dave Lee. My chapbook was just published, and I owe it to Dave, because he taught me how to approach what I know for the sake of poetry. he showed me that I didn't have to write about cities at 3am, jazz, and the people you meet at independent film festivals to have a voice in poetry. He's also such a good friend that he won't let a bad poem stand without comment. We both know that our friendship will outlast any poem, so we are able to ask each other questions, difficult questions about each other's poetry. To have a master poet with that mix of honesty and friendship is truly a gift. The marvelous thing is that Dave treats everyone with the same level of love and respect.

justin

Pamela said...

I have 3 categories:

Dr. John Adams, American Lit professor, who taught me how to read.

Mark Jarman, Richard Speakes, T. M. McNalley, and Ann Patchett, writing teachers extraordinaire.

Pamela said...

And the third category:

Mrs. Gladys Hendricks, 3rd grade teacher and worker of miracles, who saved my life with her kindness.