Tribute to Poetry Teachers

In honor of Poetry Month, I wanted to post about the many wonderful poetry teachers that I’ve had along the way.

My most recent mentor is Dorianne Laux. I first met Dorianne through her book, The Poet’s Companion. Then I was shocked and thrilled to find out she was joining NC State’s Creative Writing program the same semester that I decided to enroll. I was enrolling mainly to work with Jill McCorkle, but Dorianne turned out to be this amazing bonus. More than a bonus; she was a whole other room that helped open up my writing. Here is a video of her discussing the best advice she’s ever received on writing. Watch from the 1-2 minute point.

Dorianne taught me much about poetry, but maybe even more about teaching. The way she holds her students’ attention, the way she is fully herself, and the way she can find the sweet spot for revision, all inspired me.

My first poetry teacher was Lavonne Adams at UNCW. Lavonne took so much time and care with her students. She saw potential in my poetry when it really wasn’t worth a damn. I did an independent study on Mary Oliver with Lavonne, meeting in her office each week and discussing a new book of Oliver’s. I read all of Oliver’s work in a few months. I was immersed in reading poetry, which is the best gift a new poet can receive.

In between Lavonne and Dorianne came Dr. Patrick Bizzaro, the only male in my poetry journey. Dr. Bizzaro was an encourager and a student’s teacher, meaning his students never felt like teaching was only a symptom of his writing habit. He had treated teaching as a craft, too. He didn’t have a filter in the classroom, which made for lots of entertainment. He taught me about the British Romantics and it actually stuck! Dr. Bizzaro took a care with reading my poems and critiquing them that is difficult to find in a professor.

He also had a very unconventional technique when it came to final grades. He passed out a sheet of paper and had each student write down the grade that they thought they deserved. He said in twenty years of teaching only two students had written down a higher grade than they actually had. I thought this was genius in terms of students having to accept and “earn” their grade.

Thank you to all my wonderful teachers and mentors along the way!

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