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2015 Poetry Seminar Faculty: Gregory Pardlo

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Gregory Pardlo is the author of Totem, which received the APR/ Honickman Prize in 2007, and Digest (Four Way Books, 2014). His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Nation, Ploughshares, Tin House, as well as anthologies including Angles of Ascent, the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, and two editions of Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a fellowship for translation from the National Endowment for the Arts. An Associate Editor of Callaloo, he is currently a Teaching Fellow in Undergraduate Writing at Columbia University.

Gregory Pardlo is the winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his book Digest (Four Way Books). The judges cited Pardlo’s “clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.”

Read “Written by Himself” from Digest (Four Way Books) by Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo on the Poetry Workshop: I feel quite privileged to share, through my students’ generosity, those moments of discovery we call “breakthroughs.” The metaphor conjures wrecking balls, and (for me at least) cartoon fruit-drink pitchers knocking down walls. These are the walls we construct to cordon off the thoughts that threaten our confidence in a predictable, routine world. These walls protect us so well we often forget they also limit our range of imagination. I want to help poets reveal these walls to themselves—revelation in the truest sense. To accomplish this, we start by identifying the poet’s strengths, acknowledging what she already knows how to do well. Then we devise exercises to help her write in ways that may be unfamiliar, daunting or contrary to her conventional practice. Asking everyone to draw on underutilized personal resources in this way produces a workshop environment in which participants challenge themselves and each other to reach beyond gimmicks and line edits for richer, more nuanced experiences of their work. I believe in the workshop mantra, “no surprise for the poet, no surprise for the reader.” I want participants to walk away from my workshop not only surprised by what they’ve been able to produce. I want us all to leave astonished.

Date: November 12, 2014