Kiki Petrosino

Writers on Teaching

Writers on Teaching: Kiki Petrosino

We’ve seen an influx of poets and prose writers obtaining their Creative Writing MFA and it’s worth asking again, can writing be taught? Beyond journal entries and tweets, how do you teach a student whose sole exposure to contemporary writing is popular or commercial offerings to write beyond entertainment?

I believe that writing is a practice that you refine over a lifetime. Taking a creative writing course, joining an informal writing group, or just following prompts on your own can help you develop new skills that you can use in future projects. Process comes before product, and yes, you can develop and improve your practice.

Example: this semester, I showed my students excerpts from the 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which traces the career of 85 year-old Japanese sushi master, Jiro Ono. There’s this incredible montage that shows Jiro and his apprentices preparing for an evening service at the restaurant. There are apprentices washing rice, others carefully slicing fish, and still others just stacking plates and chopsticks. Everything takes place on the scale of a human hand. One piece of sushi at a time. With each piece, the sushi master strives for perfection. As a writer, you are not writing “all of the literature,” just like Jiro is not making ALL of the sushi. You are just working on one piece at a time. And the things you do in that creative process—your research, pre-writing, even your Tweets and journal entries—add up to something. In essence: it’s your practice that makes it possible for you to write the next piece.

In the same vein, why teach contemporary literature? Arguably, students often haven’t even had a fair exposure to Joyce, Stein or Pound. How do you make the jump to DFW and Zadie Smith? How do you lay the foundation?

Students can and should be voracious readers of canonical and contemporary texts. When it comes to my own teaching, I see no reason to keep the most innovative or complicated “new” texts out of the classroom; I start right in on them. I try to find projects for which students can discern the author’s process. Something like Anne Carson’s book-length elegy Nox, for example, engages directly with classical elegies AND with questions of translation, while presenting a personal account of grief. Everyone can relate to the emotions that might cause an artist to create a project like Nox; in class, we identify the special tools that Carson uses in her unique interpretation of elegaic form. We go from there.

Is there something you’re “looking” for in contemporary work before adding it to the syllabus? Certainly bias must come in to play but how do you decide on just a few titles to teach for a few months? And what about the dreaded year-end review when you discover everyone hated the required short-story collection?

As stated above, I look for contemporary work that displays a clear source of inspiration and/or a recognizable conceptual framework. Many of my literature students have never read a book of poetry before entering my classroom, and in my surveys, I teach 7-9 single-authored collections in a semester! Those collections better be awesome, because they must catch and keep the student’s interest. Luckily, there is so much wonderful work to choose from. Poetry that takes inspiration from history is a great way to introduce the genre to new students. Books like Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly, and Shane McCrae’s In Canaan are just three examples of recent projects by African American poets that unfold the painful legacies of race in America. They start with history and develop unique, individualized speakers that take the reader on a journey. Not every reader will enjoy every book; that’s OK. The key is to remain open-minded and to appreciate what the poet is trying to do.

In speaking of the opportune, would you say that mentoring relationships flourish under such an academic community? That is Professor to student mentoring as well as teacher-to-teacher.

Poetry has always had a strange relationship to the academy. Poets flourish in university settings, and the artistic freedom we enjoy in that context is immense. At the same time, it can be difficult to establish the kind of relationships—i.e., friendships—that you might find outside the ivory tower. Who knows why? Perhaps it just comes down to having enough time to attend to all of your academic responsibilities. As a poet, I have always sought friendships with other poets. My education takes place in coffee shops AND in classrooms. I encourage my students to take the same approach. Your best teachers are, often, your friends.

Hymn for the Black Terrific, Kiki Petrosino
14.95

Petrosino offers us wildly inventive lyrics that take as launch pad allergenesis, the contents and significance of swamps, a revised notion of marriage, and ancestors—both actual and dreamed. The eponymous second section storms through Chinese delicacies, doubts, and confident proclamations from regions of an exploratory self. Hymn for the Black Terrific is a book of pure astonishment.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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Interviews, Featured Authors

"The Next Big Thing:" Kiki Petrosino Participates

Kiki Petrosino’s second poetry collection will be available this August, she’s responded to “The Next Big Thing” questionnaire–a self-interview project for poets about recent or upcoming work. We’ve posted her answers along with some tags for other poets also participating in the world wide web venture.

SB: Where did you begin generating ideas for Hymn for the Black Terrific?

KP: Re-reading Moby Dick, I encountered Melville’s description of “the black terrific Ahab,” and started thinking of the ways obsession can warp the mind. This book is about dysmorphia–the bodily kind, in which the sufferer sees his or her body as ugly or deformed, and the special poet’s variety, in which the poet disdains her own creative output no matter how promising it may be.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Also: Suffering. Also: Not Suffering.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The final section of the book features a recurring female figure whom I call “The Eater.” She should be played by a Venus Fly Trap.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Let’s all freak out about beauty.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published and represented by the talented people at Sarabande.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two years.

What other books would you compare this collection to within your genre?

Better yet, here are the books that my book would like to invite on a date: Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars, Sabrina Orah Mark’s The Babies, Darcie   Dennigan’s Madame X.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Food and eating; body image and American womanhood; Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia; two recent trips to China; one recent marriage (mine); darkness and its varieties.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The titles of the poems in one section of the book are taken from the English translations of dishes that were served to me on my trips to China. In English, the titles became whimsical and inspiring, though they had little to do with food. Examples: “Tun Back Your Head and There is the Shore,” “I Love You. No Discussion.,” and “Linked to Blood.”

Hymn for the Black Terrific, Kiki Petrosino
14.95

Petrosino offers us wildly inventive lyrics that take as launch pad allergenesis, the contents and significance of swamps, a revised notion of marriage, and ancestors—both actual and dreamed. The eponymous second section storms through Chinese delicacies, doubts, and confident proclamations from regions of an exploratory self. Hymn for the Black Terrific is a book of pure astonishment.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

Quantity:
Add To Cart