The Apostles of Poetry
I recently moved to Raleigh to teach at North Carolina State
University, missing the graduation of my last group of MFA students at the University of Oregon. I taught
there for nearly 15 years, inviting each successive generation of students through the swinging doors, pushing
them out two years later. I would also miss my undergraduates, many of whom had gone on to various MFA programs
around the country. But with the advent of email, Myspace and Facebook, I've managed to stay in touch, and am
always pleased to hear from a former student, excited by the news of a publication on the horizon. When The
Cortland Review asked me to guest edit the April Feature around a theme of my choosing, I quickly decided to
use it as a way to showcase the poems and books of students I've worked with over the years. I've chosen from
those who have published at least one collection, along with some fine poems from TCR's current submissions pile.
What you will see is a cross section of writers from all venues of my
teaching life: my UO days as well as graduating classes at Pacific
University's burgeoning low residency MFA, and in addition, students I've worked with at Esalen Institute in Big
Sur where I teach yearly with Ellen Bass and Joseph Millar, as well as students from my early days of private
teaching in the Bay Area. The present selection
certainly refutes the notion that workshops, programs and conferences are factories, churning out cookie-cutter
poets. Each voice here is strong, unique and self-possessed. Make no mistake, these students arrived with their
talent already deep in their pockets. They read and wrote themselves to where they are now. My pride comes from
having watched them struggle and grow, dedicating themselves to a project that will garner them little beyond the
satisfaction of having committed themselves to a life of poetry and a way of being in the world.
The books they've published are the product of years of steady labor, often in addition to the physical labor of
waiting tables, stocking shelves, filing, answering phones, sweeping up. One student worked fighting forest
fires during the summer, one baked loaves of bread, another was a tech assistant, one left to soldier in the
Iraq war. Many, coming into the program, had families or began families soon after. Some managed to find jobs
teaching what they love in high schools, community colleges, private schools, universities. One teaches at The
Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and another began a reading series at the Syracuse YMCA, all of them, in
their own way, spreading the word. And throughout they have helped one another along, celebrating each success,
small or large, and commiserating over each failed attempt or rejection. They have supported each other and
are now a tribe within the tribe. They have their own ways, their own words, and are making their own new world.
And now I have a new crop at NCSU. I'm reading the fledgling
manuscripts of my first set of graduates. And my undergraduates have started to meet on Sundays at the NCSU
library. They can't get enough of the poetry stuff. They bring books of poems and read aloud to each other.
They bring words and phrases and objects then write for an hour side by side, practicing together, trying to
breathe the necessary air into their poems. They call themselves The Church of Whitman. I call them The Apostles
of Poetry. They are the next tribe coming up the pike. Watch out for them.