I began to be taught poetry in high school when I sat in class reading out of a large English/American poetry anthology I was very excited by (Dylan Thomas, Wordsworth) but we never even opened the book in class because the teacher was a jock and just wanted to talk to the boys about football and girls' tits. I think the experience mostly the experience of never being taught poetry in school made me love it and even want to teach it. I do.
In college at UMass Boston I had great professors Linda Hunt and Duncan Nelson and Charlie Bowen and Lee Grove and none of them really taught poetry but they really taught reading and writing and U.Mass was where my education really began. I was really taught poetry at St. Mark's Poetry Project by Paul Violi, Bill Zavatsky, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Jim Brodey with pinch-hitting by Charles North, and Tony Towle. The approach there which was entirely moving to me was the idea of the poet as working artist and the idea was that these people were "in the world" and not in any institution. I think part of this was about the summer of love (the year I graduated from high school) invading the East Village from '67 on and the government wanting to do something for and about these kids. So workshops for alienated youth were set up at that time at what we called "The Church." Now I notice people call it "The Project." There was a great sense of satisfaction in having such a historic and well-positioned building to revel and be poets in. It felt like it was ours and I definitely grew up there and was honored to be its director by the time I was in my 30s. I guess it was an institution but it didn't feel that way for a long while. But that's where I learned about poetry, seeing about 1-2000 readings there in my first ten years in New York.
Also when I arrived in NY in 1974 I went to Queens College briefly to get an MA. I was in a workshop w Stephen Stepanchev and he turned me on to James Schuyler (as well as AR Ammons who I kind of liked too)who I didn't know at all and O'Hara who I knew a bit. I've detailed everything I'm saying here much better in my novel Inferno which I hope you've read by now.
So I began teaching for a second in 1980 and I was terrible because I didn't know getting excited wasn't enough but then in '87 I did my first DIY workshop in Myra's studio and then began adjuncting around New York (see cv) but mostly the independent workshops were it - in and around NY usually in a gallery or a loft of someone in the workshop, and rarely in my home which felt much too personal. These were great and for me most felt like they carried on the model I received at St. Marks which was the poet kind of passing it on without having a job except this.
In 2002 I went to UC San Diego to be a Professor. Tenure, everything. I hope one day to write a novel about that time. In San Diego I was directing the writing program there and even wrote a proposal to start an MFA. I couldn't stay long enough to see it happen. Since a UC professor is "vested" in five years after tenure, I in effect retired and UC is now contributing to my poethood, a great gift.
It was terrific to be hired, loved teaching there a lot, especially the massive poetry lectures which bumped up my workshop teaching skills in scale into a performance. It was maybe a little lonely in San Diego to live there but I made some good friends who I miss in the extreme. San Diego is a mysterious place in that it looked great before I lived there and now it looks great again and so I'm always glad to go there and read and visit etc. For ten seconds last spring I thought I would live there this fall and write since I still own a house but it didn't happen and it probably never will. I have to sell that house!
In 2009, I was the Hugo Visiting Writer at U. of Montana, Missoula. I taught poetry and nonfiction. I am in love with Missoula. The mountains so close, the students so cool and great writers and I loved my colleagues and friends.
In November of 2010 I was the Hurst Professor at Washington U. Wonderful time yet I think I lost a great sweater there. Or maybe it was in Iowa. Last spring I taught at Columbia which I liked very much. Some of the pleasure of course was that I had applied to this MFA program in 1973 and didn't get in so look at me now. Also teaching in grad programs feels great since I didn't ever teach in the one in SD I started. I'm teaching again at Columbia right now, and next spring I'll be teaching at NYU. This summer I taught in Vilnius,Lithuania with the SLS program and in December I'll maybe teach for them in Kenya. So it seems I teach a lot. I'm always planning to stop but when I say yes I think how can I make this not be like teaching. And something new actually does happen. I think in 2013 after the spring I won't teach for a while.
Sept. 14, 2012