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Classy Talk with Janie Miller

Posted Thu, 9/05/2013 - 9:11pm by  |  Category:

What is the title of your class?

The Poetry Collection

People should take this class if…

they believe in the magic of the poetic chaos theory; if they are interested in creating a definition of “the poetic chaos theory;” if they strive for understanding of 1) order; 2) depth; 3) enigmatic connections. In the Poetry Collection class we will read five distinct collections of award-winning poetry and attempt to understand how the poets arranged their poems to achieve the most powerful reading experience. The class rests on the premise that if we can understand the energy behind a poem, then we can begin to fathom the energy behind a collection of poems. Ultimately, the class will open the question: how can I best arrange my own collection of poems to harness the greatest experience for a reader?

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how? 

I do exist on Facebook as a series of one liners and the occasional photograph, though I’m not committed to it. Email is much more direct and intimate, though that statement is ironic. I love postcards and handwriting and haiku the most.

What excites you about the material you’re teaching?
Poetry collections are sacred texts. To hold a single collection is to hold a butterfly in your palm, its wings breathing a pulse, its tentacles roving to the smells the wind brings: you can witness the miracle of that piece of life you hold, you can sense it, but how do you define such a life?

This morning I held thirteen collections between my two hands and felt closer to the earth. The voices on the page each unravel and re-order the most crucial aspects of our existences, and they invited me on the paths of their stories. I carved the list down into five collection that share their explorations in distinctive verse and order, and hope to share them with you this fall. 

Readings will include Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars, Sharon Olds’s Stag’s Leap, Rae Armantrout’s Versed, Robert Hass’s Time and Materials and Charles Wright’s Black Zodiac.

Tell us a bit about your previous teaching experience.
I direct poetry studies at the University of Washington in Tacoma, and also teach environmental writing. I love to inspire writing through imaginative freedom and powerful readings. I taught a genre variant workshop at Hugo House last year, and am developing an experiential nature-writing course on eco-poetics.

What do you like best about teaching at Hugo House?
Student energy & curiosity. No doubt about it, the interest and depth within the students of Hugo House is inspirational to me as an instructor.

What’s the best piece of writing you’ve read in the past year?

Stag’s Leap moved me, Jorie Graham’s The Dream of the Unified Field grounded me, Rukeyser’s essay collection Life of Poetry continues to awaken me, my students’ works excites me.

What books made you want to write?

Brenda Hillman’s Loose Sugar and Bright Existence. Larry Levis’ Elegy. Annie Dillard’s anything-she-ever-wrote. Fanny Howe makes me curious. When Harryette Mullen turns language on its ear in Sleeping With the Dictionary. When Rilke tells us about the Angels. When Lynda Hull places me in the most dangerous moments of being. When Plath polishes an image into a gem. The dictionary. The thesaurus. The dictionary of etymology.

If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Your senses are what connect you to the experiences of being alive on the planet. I love the mind, I really do, but the senses bring us back to the body of feeling.

If you were to meet your favorite writer in person later today, what would you say to them?

I would follow them around observantly, dying to speak. I’d watch them turn the corner away from me, I’d notice how their body leans into the turn, I’d try to hear their minds as they see their next poem.

What are you reading now? If you could pair it with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), what would you choose?

I am reading Gary Snyder and would choose a can of dark beer and a shot of whiskey.

I just finished Stag’s Leap and indeed did pair it with red wine. I’d highly suggest doing this.

I am reading essays that explore the question, Can Poetry Save the Earth? I’d suggest herbal tea on an Adirondack under the stars with this one.