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Duke University Arts

Jun 24, 2015

All Winners!


Eric Oberstein (second from left)

Pinar Yoldas

Thomas Brothers

Bill Seaman and John Supko
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Duke Alumnus Eric Oberstein '07, associate director of Duke Performances, won a Grammy Award as producer of Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s recording ‘The Offense of the Drum,’ which was voted Best Latin Jazz Album. It was his second nomination for the Grammy Award. Oberstein had previously won a Latin GRAMMY Award as producer of Arturo O'Farrill's "Final Night at Birdland. 

See Duke Today for more about his background and his work with Duke Performances and with O’Farrill.


Duke University art history and visual studies PhD student Pinar Yoldas was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on the interface between art and biology. The fellowships "are intended for men and women who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Of the 175 fellowships awarded this year out of an applicant pool of 3100, three went to members of the Duke academic community.

Yoldas's project is to turn air pollution into ink. Once the ink is produced, she will hand it over to writers and ask them this question: "What would you write with this poisonous ink that is literally the air we breathe?"


Louis Armstrong Master of Modernism, the latest book by Duke music professor Thomas Brothers, was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in the category Biography or Autobiography. In selecting the book, the Pulitzer committee described it as "the masterfully researched second volume of a life of the musical pioneer, effectively showing him in the many milieus where he lived and worked in the 1920s and 1930s."

Since its release in February 2015, Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism has garnered enthusiastic reviews from critics and scholars alike. Loren Schoenberg, artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, writes that “Brothers has brought together startling new discoveries and insights, a fresh look at hallowed recordings, and an understanding of the multifold influences that helped shape Louis Armstrong. In so doing, he has written by far the most complete and original look at an American icon whose influence continues into its second century.”

Brothers discussed his new book on WUNC’s  "The State of Things." and NPR’s "Dinner Party Download".


Finally, “s_traits,” by Hunt Family Assistant Professor of Music John Supko and Professor of Visual Studies Bill Seaman, was listed among the best classical recordings by 2014 in the New York Times. According to critic Vivien Schweitzer,

[t]his hypnotic disc is derived from more than 110 hours of audio sourced from field recordings, digital noise, documentaries and piano music. A software program developed by the composer John Supko juxtaposed samples from the audio database into multitrack compositions; he and the media artist Bill Seaman then finessed the computer’s handiwork into these often eerily beautiful tracks.

Jun 24, 2015

ArtCon Duke 2015: Arts and Creativity Summit

ArtCon Duke 2015, the first student-led arts and creativity summit at Duke University, was held on March 20th & 21st, in the Bryan University Center on Duke’s West Campus. ArtCon is a new initiative to celebrate and develop the vibrant arts culture of the Duke and Durham community, draw attention to the role of the arts in higher education, and ensure our country’s continuing leadership in creativity and innovation in the Arts in the twenty-first century. It provided an opportunity for students, alumni, faculty, administrators, and local artists to come together and brainstorm about The Arts at Duke. 

The weekend featured “Art-Storm” sessions, student performances, pop-up events by #artstigators – the Crazies for the Arts at Duke, music, food, and fun; expert-led industry workshops for students that focused on film/television, fashion, sports, music, marketing/public relations, and graphic design, and closed with a gala reception where students and alumni networked and continued to share thoughts and ideas about the weekend.

Andrew Jacbos, ’16 a Theatre Studies and Public Policy double major, and also pursuing an Innovation and Entrepreneurship certificate, had this to say, “As an arts student looking ahead into a future in arts administration, I learned much from Duke alumni and local artists who shared their personal experiences in the theatre, film, and comedy industry. It was also great to see my fellow students become so invested in alumni's stories and inspired by all of their work.” Andrew helped plan the art-storm sessions, moderated the Arts Entrepreneurship art-storm session, conceived and planned the a cappella performance, one of the highlights of ArtCon.

ArtCon was conceived by duARTS in collaboration with #artstigators, visArts, and student organizations that foster a creative, collaborative, diverse, and accessible community of Duke students engaged in the arts.  The intention of ArtCon was to create a “space” where students could invest in the larger arts framework, and have an impact that lasts longer than their individual time at Duke. Yuyi Li, ‘17, a double major in English and Psychology, and one of the students who helped plan the Gala, said of ArtCon, “The great turnout and enthusiasm at the event provided me with encouragement and excitement to continue working in the arts both at Duke and in the future. Events like this help students see that there is a huge arts presence at Duke and outside of Duke. Bringing everyone together really garners a spirit for creativity and for the arts!”

The goal is for ArtCon to become an annual event that students and the community can look forward to every year, and also be an ongoing resource of student input for the University’s arts efforts. 

Below is a summary of the ArtCon ArtStorm sessions and some of the big ideas that came out of those discussions 

Art-Storm Sessions 
The Art-Storm sessions were an opportunity for students, alumni, faculty, community artists, and administrators to come together to brainstorm ideas, opportunities, and goals for the Duke-Durham Arts community through informal discussions. The sessions opened with remarks from Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts and Professor of Music, who welcomed participants, and shared plans for the new Arts Center soon to be built on campus. The Art-Storm session topics included (list session names).

The Arts Entrepreneurship discussion was facilitated by Andrew Jacobs, A Cappella Council Chair. The goal of this session was to identify ways to build a relationship between problem solving, the arts, and entrepreneurship.

The Arts Center session, facilitated by Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts, Reem Alfahad, Executive Vice President of duARTS and Ryan Gaylord, President of duARTS focused on ideas for how the new creative spaces to come in the new arts center. Student accessibility to equipment, supported by workshops to gain experience in handling production equipment and tools is one of the programmatic feature of the news center already taking place.

The Arts and Activism session facelifted by Miranda Goodwin-Raab, President, Arts Annex Student Advisory Board looked at how the arts can leverage marginalized voices and bridge communities, create social change at Duke and build ties between Duke and Durham, bring community members and activists into the conversation, for example, gentrification in Durham, and design ways that art can be used to address these issues.

Arts and Academia, facilitated by Mike Myers, Theater Council Chair discussed ways students can benefit from stronger relationships between the Arts, arts organizations, and other disciplines:

Theory vs. Practice

It was difficult to talk about the arts at Duke without encountering the theory-practice distinction, and it came up in a few different ways. Most student artists know that an arts education at a liberal arts school like Duke is going to differ from an arts education at, say, a conservatory; however, the majority of Duke artists seem to always want more arts practice in their education. That is, there are far fewer students arguing a Duke arts education should have more theory. Some would not go so far as to argue that their arts major should have more practice, but instead would argue that an arts student should not be able to graduate with an arts degree without significant arts practice under their belt. Students recounted cases where others graduated without a practical experience of the Arts, and argued that practice is integral to an understanding of the Arts, even for an understanding of arts theory. Some might altogether refuse the distinction between arts theory and practice, claiming that an understanding of the practice is integral to our understanding of the theory.

Read more frm the Arts and Academia ArtStorm session here.

The Student Collaboration and Arts Communication in/outside of Duke session, facilitated by Nicole Payne, VP of Marketing, duARTS and Anshu Vipparla, Dance Council Chair (duARTS President 2015-2016) focused on arts organizations and ways to build more collaboration between these groups, to create a larger visibility of the arts on campus.   Below are the top five big ideas and goals that resulted from this session:

Top 5 Big Ideas

First-Year Programming

Create an Art Tradition

Incentive system

Building an “Arts Community”

Innovative Publicity


Streamline events so there aren’t too many arts activities going on at once, but rather combine different areas of dance or visual art in order to create more impactful events

Passport to the ARTS- create events early and have a full calendar of programming so we can publicize everything together and have arts events become more organized as a whole

Create a Duke Arts Tradition that

Is large and visible

Makes a statement, such as large robotic dragon fights

Creates for no reason

Works into Duke Culture - gardens events raise the same sort of hype that larger events like Old Duke and Me Too has on campus


ArtsCon Participants - Industry Experts (alumni and community artists)

Comedy + Theater + Dance

Laura Valk, Writer’s Assistant, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”

Madeleine Lambert, Actress/Director/Narrator/Adjunct Duke Theater Studies

Talya Klein, Director/Adjunct Duke Theater Studies

Leah Wilks, Dancer/Choreographer @ VECTOR

Liz Simons, Comedian/Blogger

Jamie Kaye-Phillips, Broadway Producer


Design + Marketing + PR

Jean Cormier, Recruiter, McKinney

Kelley Rohrs, Senior VP, Edelman (PR)

Thea Neal, Digital/Social Media, Fleishman-Hillard (PR)

Kyle Glackin, Account Executive, Wieden + Kennedy


Fashion + Visual Arts & Media

Catherine Fuentes, Managing Editor, Buzzfeed Life

Ned Phillips, Filmmaker/Director

Gabriel Eng-Goetz, Artist/Designer/Entrepreneur

Ginger Spivey, Independent Art Historian and Educational Consultant

Kim Shui, Fashion Designer

Chelsea Pieroni, Content Curator, Offline Media (Raleigh)

Laura Ritchie, Co-Founder, Director, The Carrack Modern Art


Storytelling: Publishing & Documentary Film

Annie Franceschi, Writer/Designer/Entrepreneur

Adrienne Martin, Managing Editor, Duke Magazine

Chuck Adams, Executive Editor, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill)

Catherine Orr, Filmmaker, StoryMineMedia

Elena Rue, Filmmaker, StoryMineMedia (teaches at CDS)


Music Performance & Production

Mailande Moran, Writer/Musician/Entrepreneur

Brittany Holljes, Vocalist/Musician @ Delta Rae

Liz Hopkins, Vocalist/Musician @ Delta Rae

Cameron Thompkins, Sound Designer/Composer

Becky Martinez, Producer @ WUNC’s “Morning Edition”

Hady Mawajdeh, Producer @ WUNC’s “State of Things”

Shirlette Ammons, Poet/Musician/Author


TV + Film + Sports Media

Craig Lazarus, VP, ESPN

Cory Greenberg, Director of Legal & Business Affairs @ A+E Networks (A&E, History, Lifetime, fyi, LMN, and H2)

Courtney Fischer, Manager, Wasserman Media Group

Becky Davis, Associate Producer, National Geographic Travel



ArtCon would not have been successful without the tireless support of

Reem Alfahad & Pranava Raparla, ArtCon 2015 Co-chairs

Scott Lindroth, Vice Provost for the Arts, Professor of Music

Amy Unell, #artstigator & Allison Shumar, UCAE Program Assistant, ArtCon Advisors

Ross Wade, Lindy McGrail, Meg Wilson, Duke Career Center

Yuyi Li and Charlotte McKay, ArtCon Gala organizers

Meaghan Li, ArtCon logo design

Tom Meyer, Farmers Table Restaurant Group

Heather Jernigan and UCAE Conference and Event Services


Additional acknowledgments for support from the following organizations:

duARTS, #artstigators, Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, Duke Career Center, VisArts, DukeArts, Duke University Union, Duke Alumni, Center for Documentary Studies, Arts Annex, Student Organization Finance Committee, Duke Student Government, University Center for Activities and Events, AdSpice &, Center for Multicultural Affairs, Center for Leadership Development, and Fraternity & Sorority Life.


May 12, 2015

Ciompi Quartet Presents 2015 Summer Chamber Music Series In Duke Gardens (Sold Out)

The Duke Department of Music, Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts and Sarah P. Duke Gardens are pleased to announce 2015 Ciompi Quartet Presents, a summer chamber music series in Duke Gardens.  This year the series celebrates its fourth season which, by all measures, has been a phenomenal success. Many of the concerts sell-out, audiences express delight during and after the concerts end, and the musicians continue to bring excellence in artistry coupled with greater knowledge about the composers and the music they create.  The central theme of these special concerts has been the intimate environment and the opportunity to hear from the Quartet their individual curatorial insights. This summer the series begins with a program presented by Eric Pritchard that explores connections between the Baroque and Classical music periods through works by the sons of J. S. Bach. Jonathan Bagg will present a musical study of contrasts–composers, styles and virtuosity, and Fred Raimi will end the series with a program featuring works by three of classical music’s greatest composers – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Join us and share the heart and soul of music that inspires and connects composers, musicians and audiences.

Make the 2015 Ciompi Quartet Presents chamber music series one of your must-see events this summer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015 (SOLD OUT)

Eric Pritchard presents MOZART’S PLAYGROUND, a concert tracing the stylistic development of music from the Baroque period to the Classical era through works by the sons of J. S. Bach. Andrew Willis (fortepiano), renowned for his work in Baroque performance, will join Pritchard (violin) who will perform on baroque violin. Jonathan Bagg (viola) and Fred Raimi (cello) will also join Pritchard for this first concert in the summer series. Works will include C. P. E. Bach: Sonata in b minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq76; J. C. Bach: Sonata in D Major for Keyboard and Violin, W B21; W. A. Mozart: Divertimento for String Trio in E-flat Major, K. 563.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015 (SOLD OUT)

Jonathan Bagg presents LIGHT AND SHADOW a performance where the world of color, light and shadow emerge in three strings and a flute: music of Mozart contrasts with Andrew Norman, Gunther Schuller, and Stephen Jaffe in a concert that bursts with stylistic variety and virtuosity. Bagg (viola) is joined by Gabriela Diaz (violin), Laura Gilbert (flute) and Robert Burkhart (cello). Works will include W. A. Mozart: Flute quartet in D Major; Andrew Norman: Light Screens; Gunther Schuller: Aphorisms; Stephen Jaffe: Figure-Ground (premiere).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 (SOLD OUT)

Fred Raimi presents THREE Bs IN A MINOR KEY, an evening of great works by three of classical music’s greatest composers: Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Raimi (cello) is joined by Rolf Schulte (violin), Kirsten Swanson (viola) and Jane Hawkins (piano). Works will include Bach: Sonata for Cello and Piano in g minor; Beethoven: String Trio in c minor, Op. 9, No. 3; Brahms: Piano Quartet in c minor, Op. 60.

Subscriptions are $60 and are on sale from May 5 through June 2.  

Single tickets are $25 General Public; $20 Non-Duke Students/Duke Employees; $10 Youth/Duke students. Single tickets go on sale beginning May 12.

Purchase tickets online at, in person at the Duke University Box Office, Bryan Center, weekdays 11am-6pm, or by calling 919-684-4444.

All concerts begin at 7:30pm and will take place in Kirby Horton Hall in the Doris Duke Center at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708.  Phone: 919-684-3698 for directions.


ABOUT THE CIOMPI QUARTET:  The Ciompi Quartet was founded at Duke University in 1965 by the renowned Italian violinist Giorgio Ciompi.  All its members are professors at Duke and play a leading role in the cultural life of the university and community, in addition to traveling widely throughout the year for performances.

Artists and program subject to change.  No ticket refunds. Parking is free after 5pm in Duke Gardens Parking lots. Note: Second violin Hsiao-mei Ku will be in China during summer with the Duke Engage program.

The series is presented by the Duke Department of Music, Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts and Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

In a career that includes many hundreds of concerts and spans five continents, the Ciompi Quartet has developed a reputation for performances of real intelligence and musical sophistication, and for a warm, unified sound that is enhanced by each player’s strong individual voice. With a maturity and insight born of wide experience, the Ciompi Quartet projects the heart and soul of the music with a repertoire that ranges from well-known masterpieces to works by today’s most communicative composers.

For more information on the Ciompi Quartet:  


Mar 26, 2015

Arts Internships Summer 2015

More than 60 arts organizations in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill offer opportunities for internships!  

Arts classes open the door to learning about the arts, they expand your creativity and give you a chance to engage and immerse in the study of a particular art form, however, it is also important to develop real-world, practical skills to compliment your arts education.

Here you will find a list of more than 60 arts organizations located in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill that can help you do just thatl  We provide this list so that you can investigate the different types of nternship opportunities available.  Experiences can vary from working in a gallery, shadowing a graphic designer, assisting with presenting performances, to marketing and publicizing events, or working on all aspects of producting an arts festival.  A variety of settings are available and all are located within the Triangle.

An internship in an arts organization will provide invaluable knowledge that will go a long way in helping you build your career in the arts.


Arts Administration Internships - Duke Performances seeks ambitious, highly-motivated, organized, and detail-oriented individuals at the undergraduate or graduate level with an interest in arts administration. Internship is a paid position. Contact Eric Oberstein to learn about nternship opportunities.

Mar 20, 2015

Duke Flags Lowered: Saxophonist, Composer Paul Jeffrey Dies

Durham, NC - Saxophonist and composer Paul Jeffrey, director of Jazz Studies and professor of the practice of music at Duke University, died on Friday following a lengthy illness at age 81.

Jeffrey earned a bachelor of science degree in music education at Ithaca College before moving to New York City, where he began a lifelong friendship with Sonny Rollins. An acclaimed tenor saxophonist, Jeffrey worked closely with Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and other jazz legends before coming to Duke in 1983, where he served as director of Jazz Studies until his retirement in 2003.

Read more here in the Duke Today.

Mar 8, 2015

Nathaniel Mackey, Poet and Teacher

Poet, novelist, and critic Nathaniel Mackey is Duke University’s Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing. He joined Duke’s faculty in 2010, moving from California, where he grew up and then, after his studies and his first few faculty positions, spent over 30 years as a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Mackey’s poetry has gathered considerable acclaim, most recently earning him two prestigious awards—the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and the 2015 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry, where he joined a list of twentieth-century poetic luminaries including Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, and W.S. Merwin.

On Monday, March 23, at 5:00 p.m., there will be a reading by Prof. Mackey in the Nasher Museum Auditorium, presented by the Office of the University President and the English Department.

He told an interviewer from the Duke Chronicle that he tries “to stress to [his] students that writing is not a sprint, it’s a long-distance run” and that has certainly been true in his case. His ongoing series of epistolary novels, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, now encompasses four volumes: Bedouin Hornbook (1988), Djbot Baghostus's Run (1993), Atet A. D. (2001), and Bass Cathedral (2008). It follows the sometimes fantastical career of a fictional avant-garde jazz ensemble and is grounded in Mackey’s intimate knowledge of the music—he is a long-time host of jazz radio shows and has collaborated with a number of jazz musicians in live performance and recording.

The Bollinger Prize committee noted similar qualities in his poetry.

Nathaniel Mackey’s decades-long serial work — ‘Songs of the Andoumboulou’ and ‘Mu’ — constitutes one of the most important poetic achievements of our time. ‘Outer Pradesh’ — jazz-inflected, outward-riding, passionately smart, open, and wise — beautifully continues this ongoing project.


The book’s epigraph is Jean Toomer’s assertion of modernist open-endedness and generic not-belonging: ‘There is no end to ‘out.’’ Mackey applies this endlessly outward-going passage to an ecstatic, exilic experience, as a group of travelers — a ‘philosophical posse’ — makes its way across an Indian province. What they and we encounter on this journey is a pre-history embodied by ‘old-time people’ whose songs must be heard. Together we find ourselves within an improvised social continuum that grows larger, stranger, more remote, and more consoling at every turn. Memory becomes a site of social commentary and collective vision. Mackey’s epic of fugitivity forms a stunning meditation on being.

Surprisingly, given his prominence as a poet and novelist, his appointment at Duke is the first time he has been hired as a creative writer. He has had a parallel career as a scholar and literary critic, focussing on modern and postmodern literature in the U.S. and the Caribbean. His teaching portfolio at Duke reflects that background—in addition to his poetry workshops it includes seminars in topics such as African American experimental writing and the work of William Carlos Williams.

A selection from Outer Pradesh by Nathaniel Mackey

As with the old-time people, the
  word their one rescue, words
would be our rescue we’d been
     told. Believing so braced us,
 of the book’s advantage, book of
    the word’s leverage, lift…
beit words were our one rescue
 they were those Night Choir
sang. No way could we be free
     of apprehension… But in the
        known as fretless his and her
  heads flew, Nunca and Anuncio
     thumbing the book of not, not
that what would be would have to
  with them, not that they were there
they were     

I sat down to talk with him a few weeks after he had read at Salon, a very successful evening of poetry sponsored by Duke's literary magazine, The Archive, so that was the first topic of conversation. We also discussed his approach to teaching poetry and the place of poetry in the academy, among other things. What follows is an edited transcript.

-Robert Zimmerman

It was great to hear you at the poetry salon a few weeks ago. How did you feel about the event?

As I said that night, it's been really nice for me to see that happen here. This is my fifth year, and I think that was the third time it's been held. It's one of the few occasions where faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates who are interested in poetry have a chance to get together and talk to one another, hear one another's work. I was very happy with what I heard, the range of poetry from everybody, and I think the inclusion of the music was a real asset.

It's a really important event and I hope that it becomes a yearly event, something that we expect and look forward to. But it really depends on student initiative. I don't think it should be done top down.

I'd like to hear about the courses you teach. Are they mostly poetry and creative writing?

I teach a range of courses. I have a PhD in English and American Literature, so I was trained as a literary critic/scholar. For all the years I've been teaching, this is actually the first time I was hired as a creative writer.

One of my areas of specialty is modern and contemporary poetry and poetics. I also teach courses in African American and Caribbean literature. I'm a modernist, a contemporarianist. Some would say a post-modernist. I teach a lot of literature that comes out of that zone.

Including in your writing classes?

When I teach writing workshops I include reading as a part of that. Poets, writers, need to read. But the workshops are undergraduate classes, and one of the things undergraduate writers need is an audience. They need to be heard and they need to hear what people have to say about their work. Primarily, they need to hear from their peers. They're not necessarily taking the class because they want to get my feedback. Although, they can't avoid it [laughs].

But in my workshops, I aim to create an environment in which that kind of interaction between students can take place. I have them bring in work on a regular basis, and part of the assignment for the rest of the class is to read it and come prepared with comments. Usually in a workshop a student will bring in work for discussion four or five or even six times a semester, depending on the size of the class.

After we've had some initial discussion, I invite the student whose work we're discussing to talk about what he or she had in mind, and we talk about whether the poem delivers that or not. But then sometimes we also have to ask, how important is what you had in mind?

One thing I say to them over and over again—they probably get tired of hearing me say it—is that as the writer you're the first reader of the poem. Sometimes you have to look at what you've written as though someone else wrote it, because it may be telling you something that you didn't know was there.

The material can take its own direction.

Yeah. I tell them that the aim of the workshop is to make them more conscious writers, for them to think about what they do, to be aware of what they do, to be aware of what decisions they make, of what the words are doing, what the line breaks are doing, what the sounds are doing. Even what the orthography is doing, what the look of the poem on the page is doing.

At the same time, we can’t forget that the unconscious has an important role to play in the process. Sometimes there are these intuitive cues that pop up, that can lead you to a poem that may not be quite the one you thought you were writing, but it can be a better poem.

Who are the students that take these workshops? I guess you can count on some English majors. Are there other majors that show up a lot?

Yeah, when I taught at UC Santa Cruz and previous places the writing workshops were made up mostly of English and literature majors. But that's not the case here. In a workshop, half or more of the students are not English majors.

Last Spring we had a couple of math/science majors in the class and they were doing a lot with that as subject matter. And we had classes where the two of them would start talking with each other about linear equations and all that stuff and, you know, we just had to surrender, let them talk [laughs].

But I find it interesting and exciting to hear students bringing in material from their classes that are not particularly literary, bringing it into their poems. I remember having a fellow who was really into geology a few years ago and you'd get a lot of geology in his poems, which was great, because we learned something about geology. But it also, then, raised the question of how you deal with information in your work, especially information you can't expect the average reader (whatever that mythical beast looks like) to know. How much work do you have to do for that reader? Different people do it different ways.

On the other hand, some of the students are English or literature majors, they've read a lot of the canonical figures and the not-so-canonical figures. They've been taking workshops since high school and they want to continue to do it as part of their curriculum. And I hear complaints from some of those students, the humanities-oriented types, that they haven't found quite the environment that they expected to make that kind of interest thrive.

Hopefully things like the salon will improve the situation.

Yes, but I think having more students who declare those interests catch the eye of the admissions office would be good, too.

I imagine those folks get a lot of input from all sides! But for what it's worth, I do hear a lot of conversations about building a culture of arts and humanities on campus, both in Scott Lindroth's office [(the Vice Provost for the Arts)] and through my work with Humanities Writ Large.

I would think that a fair number of students must come to your workshops because of their interest in rap and hip-hop.

Yeah, a lot of the students come via hip-hop and its influence on the slam scene and spoken word. I always feel there's a place for that in my classes. Often students who come out of that background are coming to the workshop because they want to get more of the literary bent, to see in what ways that can influence the spoken word work and in what ways the spoken word can influence the literary work.

Usually in a class there's a range of styles and idioms and senses of poetry that are represented by the students. Pretty much in every class, spoken word is represented.

So how do you navigate between all their different interests and yours?

I try to keep an open environment where different stylistic and thematic perspectives can coexist, I'm certainly not trying to get them to write like me. My orientation invariably comes up—you have to be yourself—but pedagogically you try to not let that be a heavy weight in the room.

For students who want a closer one-on-one relationship with regard to a particular poem, or just throughout the semester, I have office hours. And I have students who come in, and we sit down, and go through their poem word by word. That's what poetry is made of, word choices, and we'll talk about why this word isn't really working, why it's not doing what you want it to do, and I'll suggest some things, or I'll say, "I can't think of anything that you might replace that word with, so let's just brainstorm right now. You start."

There's a sense out there that it's bad when art settles into the university. This comes up a lot with jazz. There's this idea that jazz musicians are supposed to learn their craft hanging out in nightclubs, that something important gets lost if it's taught in a classroom.

If you academicize it you're going to suck the life out of it. The same kind of argument goes on with writing.

Do you have an answer to that?

My answer is that it’s just another track. If you're out on the road or you're having a hard time of it or whatever, that doesn't make you an artist. Every artist has the challenge of making art out of his or her experiences, his or her environment—to produce art that has a pulse is always a challenge. Being in an academic environment just presents a different kind of challenge.

Years ago I remember someone talking about my generation of poets being the first generation to go to graduate school. We arrived at that cusp. I certainly experienced some anxieties about it. So many of the poets and writers that I read and got inspired by were anti-academic. Many of them ended up in academia. Those doors opened up and we dealt with it.

But I keep reading that poetry is dead, just like jazz. Is there any truth to that or is it just endless noise?

It's endless noise. That's the motivation. Poetry is always going to be around because it's just so close to what we are as a species—Homo sapiens, the language makers and the language users. Going back to our cave times, poetry has been a kind of levitator. I don't see it going away. It gets reborn in new forms like spoken word, among young folks, and it takes on new life that way.


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