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Poet Alan Michael Parker Guests at ‘Best American Poetry’

Alan Michael Parker
Alan Michael Parker

Poet Alan Michael Parker, the Douglas Houchens Professor of English, is a current guest blogger at Best American Poetry.

"Last spring, when I agreed to blog for a week at the Best American Poetry site, I anticipated riffing upon current events in literary circles, musing and rambling, and casually posting a couple of links to poems I admire. Nothing like that has happened," said Parker, whose eighth and most recent book of poems is The Ladder (Tupelo Press, 2016). "Instead, in part due to a radical reimagining of my pedagogy these last two years, and ‘tear downs' of my syllabi that resulted in new courses replete with fresh notions of teaching and learning, I began to experiment. I wrote: that's what I do, to think. I tried: that's what the word ‘essay' means, after all."

If a poet's job is to call out the truth, and a teacher's job is to ask the right questions, Parker does not spare himself, as a student of pedagogy as well as of poetry.

In the Sept. 20 post "Bad Workshops," for instance, he wrote:

"In the Spring of 2013, I taught the worst undergraduate poetry workshop ever. The students were marvelous and curious and smart; the writing distinctive; the books were scintillating; the visiting poets I brought wow, wow, wowed us; the final projects demonstrated learning and promise; and the camaraderie was memorable. Everything came together. Why then was the workshop so awful? Because all of the above assessments were mine, based on my aesthetics, to make me happy, and far too much of the learning was merely parroted. And I didn't realize until later that summer how much I had fallen for my own image in the mirror of my pedagogy. It wasn't a workshop, it was a self-portrait."

In other posts, Parker writes an article on fostering eccentricity and a how-to meditation on titling poems.

"But the works of others will be even more prominently displayed," he added. "Eleven poets with new books have been interviewed, the questions unorthodox and the answers delightful, collated and curated in a special feature. (One of those poets is Davidson College's own Clint Smith '10, whose first book is just out). There will also be a comic commissioned for the site, a marvelous work by novelist and cartoonist Lydia Conklin; and finally, an email correspondence with MacArthur fellow Terrance Hayes will be included, a dialogue he and I have had over the past few months on the subjects of syntax, sense, and sound.

"So that's where this project is, not quite a book, bigger than a talk, smaller than a breadbox, provocative, full of brio (a favorite word) and featuring a raft of brilliant poets thinking hard about their craft.

"A sad final note: four of the 11 poets interviewed are publishing their first books this season, a momentous event for each. Tragically, one of these poets is Max Ritvo, who has just died after years of battling a rare cancer. He was 25. He and I never met, but he was brilliant in correspondence, as he answered my questions via email this summer. I am sorry for his family's loss, and grateful for the poems with which he left us," Parker said.