The Poets of Emory: Past, Present, and Future

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Dr. Marberry  | Dr. Warren | Jericho Brown | Emily Gardin | Christian Blount

A little over a week ago one of my poems, State of Emergency, was published in The Best Teen Writing 2017 by the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards. Every year, they hold a contest, open now, for 7th-12th grade students to showcase their work on a grand stage. Those who earn awards on the national level are eligible to be published in the yearly publication of The Best Teen Writing. Poetry has had a big impact on my life and, in my opinion, helped me to get into Emory. Poetry has also been a great asset to my transition to life here at Emory, so I wanted to explore and bring awareness to the poetry scene around Emory. My journey first brought me to my Intro to Poetry Writing professor, Dr. Michael Marberry. Dr. Marberry is a visiting fellow in the Department of Creative Writing. I wanted to get his perspective as someone who has taught poetry in many different environments to see if there really is something special about Emory’s poetry scene.

[Daquon] So my first question is tell us a little more about being a visiting fellow at Emory and sort of what drawn you to Emory?

[Dr. Marberry] OK. So as far as being a visiting fellow I guess it’s been I mean I’ve only been here a month so I haven’t had a lot of experience but everybody’s been very supportive, very welcoming, very nice, very thoughtful. So yeah, I don’t think anyone could ask for a better situation to walk into. As far as things I was looking forward to like when I applied. I don’t know if you know this Daquon but Emory has for a long time really excellent reputation in terms of poetry undergrad creative writing. You know people like Natasha Trethewey Kevin Young Jericho Brown who’s here right now all really phenomenal writers so, Yeah, I feel pretty lucky to be walking in that kind of situation.

[Daquon] So going on with the fact of you being interested in the creative writing side of Emory so far how has teaching introduction of poetry class been in terms of getting to know your students. Do you feel as like the liberal arts environment of Emory has had any impact on the creativity of your students?

[Dr. Marberry] Yeah, so the students here have been really great. I was talking with my colleagues a minute ago I taught this class at a few different universities and those have been very positive experiences as well. I do think that here one of the things I’ve been sort of surprised by in a good way

[Dr. Marberry] Yeah, so the students here have been really great. I was talking with my colleagues a minute ago I taught this class at a few different universities and those have been very positive experiences as well. I do think that here one of the things I’ve been sort of surprised by in a good way is you know a lot of times when you teach a class like this because it’s a workshop or if you’re like writing stuff into responding to your students work and writing creative stuff ever and every week you know get used to them, your students, sort of thinking about what you as a teacher are saying and suggestions that you have to sort of improve their work or questions that you have. One of the things I’ve been really surprised about here is just how seriously you guys have taken each other’s work and how you treat each other. your other classmates with a lot of respect and it seems like you guys are really carefully reading each other’s work and thinking about it and come in with good stuff say both in terms of things that you admire and things that you think you have concerns about or questions about or suggestions and so that to me as a teacher is awesome. And the students care about each other and their peers work and I don’t know this but I have to think that part of that comes from the liberal arts education at Emory and the kind of collaborative nature of it and the fact that you’re working with other students in other fields and other disciplines all the time. So, I don’t know I don’t know if that plays a part but I have to think I mean I like to imagine that it does. You guys have been great.

[Daquon] Yes so going for students here at Emory that may have have like an interest in writing poetry or maybe they aren’t as comfortable sharing poetry, do you feel like the creative writing workshop classes help students sort of build that confidence in their writing and you can see so far even though you’ve been here for a month you’ve seen some evolution somewhat?

[Dr. Marberry] Yeah, I think definitely. I would recommend anybody that has any interest in poetry whether they’ve written poetry all their lives or whether they’ve never written a poem or they don’t even really know what poetry is. I think the poetry workshops here are great great opportunities. I’d like to say that it’s because of me because I’m such a great teacher but really, I think it’s again it’s because of you guys classmates are so great and so you know just careful and considerate empathetic towards one another. It’s a really, I can’t imagine a better atmosphere if you wanted to try Poetry and the atmosphere we have here is just very welcoming supportive. So I wish everyone would take a poetry workshop personally.

[Daquon] And my final question would be being that you’ve taught in many different places and Atlanta has a very rich arts culture from even Emory’s campus to the many different like arts groups poetry groups. to even outside of that many times there’s a spoken word open mic night all around Atlanta, do you feel that having that sort of cultural atmosphere helps impact students to think more creatively and be more engaged to creative writing type classes.

[Dr. Marberry] Absolutely. Yeah. No,atmosphere been in it. I’ve only been in Atlanta slightly longer than I’ve been at Emory so I’m still learning the city too. But you know I can’t speak to the other arts though I know they exist here in Atlanta the other day I was over on the campus and they’d been filming for one of the Marvel movies or something like that which you don’t see in a lot of other campuses but as far as poetry goes Atlanta has so much going on. I mean you mentioned like the spoken word open mics. The people that we have working here and the reading series that we have here you know like nearby schools Agnes Scott has a great reading series. Georgia Tech their Poetry at Tech reading series is one of the best in the nation, GSU. I mean there’s so many opportunities to participate in poetry and the art to experience it and to learn from that you know I mean I think that if someone’s interested in poetry, in particular, Atlanta’s a great close to be. At least, it seems that way to me and I do think that that again, I like to imagine that that rubs off on the students. When you live in a place where art and poetry is taken seriously and valued, I think that translates into the classroom because students take it seriously and they value it because they see it outside the classroom too.

Hearing Dr. Marberry talk about the atmosphere made me remember Atlanta’s history, specifically in the time of the Black Arts Movement. Colleges were at the forefront of this artistic movement and I thought who better to explain that history than someone who instructs my Black Arts Movement course, Dr. Nagueyalti Warren.

[Daquon] In regard to Atlanta’s history in terms of being a Arts one of the arts capitals especially with the black in regards to the Black Arts Movement how do you feel that the nature and tradition of Atlanta being such an arts atmosphere has an effect on things like poetry at Emory.

[Dr. Warren] Interesting question. You know I think that there have been ebbs and flows. And I think that during the 60s and 70s part of the Black Arts Movement that certainly. It had an effect on Emory And Emory students and the formation, in 1971, of the Black studies department and so forth. Today, Im not so sure that the kind of cross seating that took place during those times is still happening. I know that there is a large push for poetry at Georgia Tech. I know that when Natasha Tretheway and Kevin Young were here. You know the. formation and the foundation of the Phillis Wheatley chair and bringing black poets to campus was something. In terms of the student movement and how students are engaged in poetry and in writing it ebbs and it flows. I know when the students organized, The fire this time, there was a poetry in that. Large workshops and student AUC getting together with students here and doing big poetry workshops I’m not sure that that’s going on at this point. At some point, it did. In 2012, there were students on campus, matter of fact, one of the student leaders is doing a MFA at the University of Alabama now where they did poetry slams and contest and so forth. So, it depends on students leadership and just where they are, you’d be the perfect person to start that up again.

[Daquon] And so you being a teacher for the freshman seminar the Black Arts Movement and also teaching a class about black women’s poetry, Why do you think it’s important for especially students to sort of learn about poetry, the history behind it, and the political and cultural concepts, that come through poetry especially in such a nearby environment.

[Dr. Warren] Because there isn’t another way to receive it. I mean many students when they think of our history they think about names and dates and are like “boring.” The poetry is an installation of the culture in and of itself. With the history and the music and the political message all in one so I think its a wonderful way for students to learn Not only creative things, but their own history.

[Daquon] And final question for you is what do you see for the poetry scene in at Emory or what do you hope are your hopes for. What do you hope that it grows to or develops into.

[Dr. Warren] Oh I hope the the Creative Writing department. grows. And I know that Jericho is working hard to bring exciting people, poets, to campus. To recruit and replace those people that we lost. And that student will take the initiative to have their own poetry slam, and poetry contests, and poetry journal.

Since the first day I met her, Dr. Warren has been telling me how much I need to take a class under Jericho Brown. When presented with this project, I thought it would be the perfect time to pick his brain, especially with his expertise in the subject being the head of the Creative Writing Department.

[Daquon] So my first question is so far what has your experience been like with poetry at Emory and with Emory being so close to Atlanta poetry scene in Atlanta?

[Prof. Brown] Yeah. Yeah I love it here. You know Emory is its own community as it relates to poetry but it’s a community that can attract poets to it. Many people all over the city who are all over the metro area love poetry come here to see our reading. You know I think there’s a really vibrant exchange and interchange between or I should say among our students who take various kinds of workshops. So I think. We feel. I think Emory poetry scene sort of stands as a beacon. But I think there are other beacons and I think all together all these beacon make for one great big life. One great big light. I mean to say throughout the city you know. The work in an open mic and spoken word being done at Java Monkey and through the people who are part of the community and part of that thing is very necessary because they feed into what we’re doing. Hopefully we feed into what they’re doing. The Poetry at Tech events at Georgia Tech are the same thing you know that there something that we have to have because we have to have something in every part of the city that moves around. Recently Agnes Scott has hired a poet named Kamilah Aisha Moon who is teaching there full time now. So I think you know what we’re what we do at Emory is what I think of as our part and that part we play has to be the part we play has to be great for us but it also has to be great because you play a part you’re contributing to the whole thing.  So what we do we do for our students. But in a way we do it for the future. We do it for the city. We do it for the South and we do it for the way people think about poetry all over the world. At least that’s my hope.

[Daquon] So personally being head of the creative writing department have you seen student poets growth or have you seen how poetry or creative writing has really had an impact on students?

[Prof. Brown] Yeah. You know in terms of publication we’ve had students who are now getting published in magazines just prestigious as Poetry Magazine, as well as The Best American Poetry and these, are undergrads, so these are huge feats for undergraduate poets. There are other publications, there are other prizes, there are opportunities that are coming to our poets. That are sort of things you would see on a resume or on a CV. But I think the most important change is what I experience in the classroom is watching students’ faces light up when they come across an idea in poetry that sort of matches something that they were thinking about something else that the poetry itself makes other parts of life make sense and that when you have poetry as a vocation the more you grow in it the better you are at it the more you see that growth in yourself. And as a teacher I can sort of see that my students feel this they they understand and they know “oh I’m better at this than I was last semester or last year.”And that’s actually the growth that is most important to me, although it’s nothing you can measure. I mean it’s only a feeling and it’s hard to measure feelings.

[Daquon] Right and you’ve sort of gone into this before but just like to expound upon it, what are your hopes for the poetry scene at Emory moving forward?

[Prof. Brown] Well. I mean that’s pretty large. I’d like us to have a Fellows program where we’re attracting recent PhD and MFA graduates in poetry. We already have a program where we have one fiction writer and one poet who come here to teach for two consecutive years. I’d like expand that here. I’d like more poets teaching at the intro level who are who have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in American poetry because they are younger people. And I’d like that to happen for fiction as well. And I’d like for our faculty to become more robust so that we can actually grow our program. I think you know the more we have majors the more we can use faculty to support those majors. I’d like to see our university our program known to the MFA programs as the place where when our students apply those who read those applications understand that they’re dealing with somebody they’re probably going to have to accept into their program because I’d like for people who graduate with a creative writing major at Emory who then, and many of them many of them won’t, but those that do apply to MFA programs I want that to be an automatic yes because their work is just that good because we’ve done some training in that area. That’s what I would like to see in the future.

[Daquon] And sort of as my final question Is there anything else you want to let the audience know about poetry or creative writing at Emory whether it be advice for maybe students who are interested in or sort of a call to action for students who are already in the creative writing field just like different things that you want to see from them or different things that people who may not be as outgoing with their work sort of how they can get involved?

[Prof. Brown] I think it’s a good idea I think a lot of times people are intimidated or afraid to do things that they haven’t done before. But the truth is that we don’t get good at anything until we fail at it. The thing everything anybody ever wanted to do they did very poorly the first time they did it but that didn’t. That doesn’t mean that they stop trying to do it. Everybody I know who ever wanted to drive wasn’t very good at it the time and they tried to drive but they still went back and tried to drive. And I think that it would be a good idea for our students to approach the arts in that way and creative writing in particular in that way and that we approached it with a certain kind of a certain kind of idea and that which is playful that where we can have a good time does indeed intersect with that that is very serious that which we can take seriously. And I think If students are interested in creative writing that should take a workshop. And they should try to have a good time while they take the workshop and they should also take it very seriously. Often students think of their creative writing classes as their opportunity for a basket weaving course. And I think that’s really too bad when you take my class and trying to figure out why you have D in your basket weaving course. So I think you have to take it seriously as you would any other class. But I also think it asks you to be a little free, it asks you to create your own sense of what you want poetry to look like and I think it’s a good idea to start thinking about that. What you want a poem to do what you want the art in your life to look like.

It was great to talk to professors with such a rich breadth of subjects related to poetry, but they each emphasized the importance of students in the poetry scene. They all want students to get more engaged with poetry and really take leadership of the scene or beacon that is at Emory. Because of this, I wanted to get student opinions of how poetry affects life at Emory, especially because we are the current poets and/or future leaders of the poetry scene. The first person to reach out to me was Emily Gardin.

[Daquon] So, my first question is sort of give a background [i.e.] your name and your year and your interest in poetry

[Emily] Ok, my name is Emily Gardin. I’m a first year. And I’m from Waterbridge, CT, but I was born in Panama. I think I started to love poetry maybe my freshman year of high school perhaps. I think in middle school was still that awkward phrase for me and I didn’t know how to properly communicate. So when I got to my freshman year I kind of used writing as like a self-defense mechanism so like I just love to write and escape from the world.

[Daquon] So you talk about poetry as a form of escape or self-defense, how do you see poetry as a part of your life here at Emory, or being that you’re a freshman, so far how has poetry affected you if in any way?

[Emily] Ooh definitely! So as I came here I haven’t been able to write as much as I like, but there’s so much beauty just on campus. I feel like people or just like a building so I’ve always had like an idea of things I want to write about being at Emory [and] being in Atlanta, so I’ve been, in my head, been trying to find ways to write poems about that and I feel like everybody I meet is so nice to the point where like it’s just a good way, I can just write from people if that makes sense.

[Daquon] I definitely understand that. And so being that Emory is one of the few schools that have a major in Creative Writing, and you can do stuff like poetry writing, screenplay writing, et. Cetera, do you feel that you’re going to take advantage of some of the Introduction to Poetry or poetry in general classes here at Emory?

[Emily] Definitely! Applying to this school, I did apply as English and Creative Writing, the dual program I showed interest in that. I definitely do love Creative Writing and I know a lot of people do not offer that, so when I was applying to schools, it was a very huge factor. And I just love the liberal arts feel of Emory, so I’m very excited to take like poetry classes, fiction writing, narrative writing. I’m excited to just explore the options I have in the Creative Writing and English field.

[Daquon] My final question for you is how do you see poetry at Emory going forward? What are some of your hopes that the poetry scene would be like or what do you want to give to the poetry scene?

[Emily] I think I did hear that Emory had a spoken word night and I would love to see more of that. I would love to go to a spoken word night even if I don’t contribute just hearing other peoples’ work would be so amazing and very like a different experience. I didn’t experience really experience that in high school or I didn’t really know many people who liked to write or were writing so I feel like that

The next and final person I interviewed was Christian Blount.

[Daquon] First, just give a basic introduction to yourself and your poetry background.

[Christian] My name is Christian Blount and I am a Creative Writing and Linguistics major in the class of 2020.  My poetry background is in erotica and black consciousness.

[Daquon] What has your experience been like in the poetry scene at Emory/in Atlanta, if any?

[Chrisitan] It’s been hard, yet I’ve noticed that budding boldly is the best way to go. You have to be unapologetic when your work is erotica and black consciousness.But since this is a white school my work isn’t always recieved well from those who are not black, but everyone says it’s good nonetheless.

[Daquon] How do you think the poetry scene at Emory can improve?

[Christian] I always feel like Emory loves to sell its diversity as inclusivity…but that’s not always the case, and that blends into themes or actions of artists on campus. But the poetry scene can definitely be helped by helping Emory actually be inclusive. But then again Emory could encourage students to keep being unapologetic about their artwork.

It was after conducting all of these interviews that things began to click. All of the professors were talking about how they wished more students were involved in poetry and that students should take poetry seriously. From the student perspective, we would love to be more involved and have more poetry events, but can we really? There’s this dichotomy between being inclusive to a wide audience and keeping your artistic integrity and being unapologetically yourself. Poetry is not a spectator sport. It requires engagement whether it’s writing, responding, or even just thinking about being said. There are some poets whose work can be seen as a little more inclusive like Emily. When you’re talking about environments or escapism, it doesn’t usually have implications as something like Christian’s being that black consciousness can get very political. Many times when poets write from their hearts they step on toes and hurt feeling, myself included. Poetry has a history of being raw and not that inclusive. I think the biggest thing, however, stems from something said in my interview with Jericho Brown:”What you want a poem to do what you want the art in your life to look like?” As members of the poetry scene we control the future of poetry not only at Emory but also America as a whole. Eventually, the poetry scene at Emory has to come to a decision on what they want poetry to do and look like. Do we want poetry to bring people together and spare all feeling? Do we want our poetry to tackle major issues and bring awareness to institutional flaws by pulling no punches? Or is there any way we can do both?

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