2014 Poetry Seminar Faculty: Jennifer Grotz

Jennifer Grotz

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Jennifer Grotz is author of The Needle, which received the Paul Nasser Prize, the 2012 Best Book of Poetry Award by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was named one of the “5 Best Books of Poetry of the Year” by National Public Radio. Her first book, Cusp, received the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize and the Natalie Ornish Best First Book of Poetry Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her translations from the French of the poems of Patrice de La Tour du Pin are collected in Psalms of All My Days. Other poems, essays, translations, and reviews have appeared widely in journals such as The New Yorker, The New RepublicThe New York Review of Books, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies. A recipient of awards from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Camargo Foundation, she teaches at the University of Rochester and serves as the assistant director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Teaching Statement:  The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once defined poetry’s function as “the passionate pursuit of the Real,” suggesting that one’s task as a writer is to try to capture a constantly changing, impossible to comprehend but utterly important world. On the other hand, the American poet Wallace Stevens once claimed the imagination to be the most noble aspect of poetry, famously declaring that imagination is “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without…,” and that the imagination “press[es] back against the pressure of reality.”

I think both of these poets are right. Sometimes I find it useful to think about a poem as a boxing ring inside of which these two pressures exert themselves. In a good poem, one is not so interested in which boxer will win; rather, what’s most important is that both boxers last through all twelve rounds. This is all a way to say that I’m drawn to think about how poems create and contain tensions as much through their form and structure as through content. I’m interested in all kinds of poems, but I believe a good poem is also a durable object in and of itself, one whose function may be to cast a spell, tell a story, or inventory a world. Poems recapture, instruct, doubt, praise, or provoke—and they do what they do through the pleasures they provide the reader.

As a teacher, I aim to encourage both your ambition and your humility as you sit down to fill the empty page. I will emphasize both the generation of new work and the dogged revision of poems. I will ask you to roll up your sleeves and “inherit [your] tradition through great labor,” as T. S. Eliot once described the poet’s study of other writers. This may require reading writers coming before our time or writers from different languages and traditions, and it may take the form of writing imitations, poetic responses, or practicing received forms. Most of all, I’m interested in helping you write the poems you want to write while at the same time inviting you to deepen and develop your thinking of what poems can be and of the meaningful pleasures they can provide.

Date: December 23, 2013
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