For me, teaching and writing have always been related; though while working on Easy Math, I wasn’t teaching poetry or even creative writing. I was variously teaching remedial English composition, ESL, Research Writing, College Preparatory, and Critical Thinking. In essence, I was teaching classes I never had to take, and many of my students were first generation undergraduates or they didn’t speak or write English fluently. I was in the position to help them gain basic important writing and thinking skills.
The experience heightened the weirdness I felt about the world—here I was living in Wisconsin, of all places, talking about diagramming sentences and FANBOYS (coordinating conjunctions) to students who were desperately clinging to the coattails of what they imagined to be the American Dream. It was an abrupt transition from working toward an MFA and discussing poetry and poetics with like-minded people.
Walking into class, I often felt that I was entering a poem written in the Surrealist tradition. Sometimes the only bridge I could build was by using pop culture icons as examples for concepts I was teaching. So Britney Spears has this new song out, right? This changed me in a number of ways.
Most immediately, I began to consider more fully the education system in America—whom it served and why—and it made me think about logic in general, or the lack thereof, in contemporary America. This entered heavily into the content of my poetry, while also changing my worldview significantly, which is a more oblique way of entering a poem.
Now I teach creative writing to more privileged students at a small liberal arts college on the East Coast. It’s surreal again, in a different way. There’s the clichéd saying that you learn as much from your students as you teach them, and while it’s odd to quantify learning in that way, what I took away, and what entered my work, was a new sensibility based on the varied experiences of the students around me.
Aesop stood on end, Shapiro’s poems tells wry fables that defy our instinct to find a moral to the story. “There are an infinite number of ways to torture the soul with hopefulness” she tells us, so instead we have ways to survive—crooked grins, twisted logic, and equations of jello shots, amusement parks, and post-it notes that never add up.