Hugo House instructor Erin Malone is a Seattle-based poet whose works have been featured in FIELD, New Ohio Review, Radar Poetry, and Ruminate. Her first full-length collection, Hover, won the Patricia Bibby Award from Tebot Bach Press and was published in March 2015. Her collection, Site of Disappearance, was recently named a finalist for the 2020 National Poetry Series. In addition to writing and teaching, Erin also served as the editor of Poetry Northwest from 2016 – 2020.
This fall, Erin will be teaching Poetry II online. We recently caught up with her to learn more about her path as a writer, her approach to teaching, and how her work as an editor has influenced her teaching style.
Can you tell us a little bit about your path as a writer and what drew you to writing poetry?
I always loved to write, and I was lucky to be encouraged from an early age. I wrote plays that my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sallie Allen, let me produce in class. I’ve kept in touch with Mrs. Allen over the years. How to express what she and my other great teachers (all public school educators) gave me, growing up? It’s inestimable.
I started writing poetry in earnest in college. I had no idea I could study it for an advanced degree until one of my professors told me. Then everything I did was toward that goal. I didn’t have much money and could only afford to apply to a few schools. Three of them turned me down, but the UW accepted me, and it turned out to be the perfect fit. It laid the groundwork for me, and I’ve been writing and teaching in the community for more than 20 years now.
This quarter, you’re teaching Poetry II. What are you most looking forward to about teaching this class?
This summer I returned to teaching adults, for the first time in a while. (I love working with children and had done that with Writers in the Schools for several years, before serving as editor of Poetry Northwest.) I look forward to the conversations in workshop, the fellowship around discovery in art—the ways it opens us.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
As always evolving, I hope. We’re all learning from each other. I’m here to facilitate conversation, to create a space where students can trust me and one another to give and receive generously when responding to their work. Things are so difficult right now. My goal is that honesty and kindness are at the center of everything I do.
You’re also the former editor of Poetry Northwest. How, if at all, has your work as an editor informed your teaching style?
There are so many brilliant, intriguing, wonderful voices out there creating poems—there is no one way to write. As an editor I was always seeing something new, whether it was in the use of line or space or logic. Poetry–narrative, lyric, visual, hybrid—all of it is exciting. Editing reinforced for me the idea that each poem has to be read according to its own rules. When reading a poem our first question shouldn’t be what is this poem about, but how is this poem asking to be read? Not every poem will be successful, but every poem can teach us something.
Also, I learned so much from other editors I worked with. Sometimes they could see something about a poem that I had overlooked. Then I’d read it again, and we’d discuss it. The exchange was always valuable, and that’s the kind of dialogue I appreciate in class, too.
What are three things students can expect to take away from your class?
Practically, they’ll have a half-dozen new poems or poem-starts, generated from writing prompts I’ll give in class every week. They’ll also have a poem (or two, depending on class size) that will be the focus of in-class discussion and review. Aside from that, I hope they’ll form relationships with other writers they meet so that they can continue the conversation after class has ended.
What would you say is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned about writing poetry?
That the event and persistence of writing, more than the poem, is the real success.