2010 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Professor of English;
College of Arts & Sciences
"I think a lot of people think that poetry is this thing that can't be taught, but there are a lot of aspects of the craft that you really can teach. I try to focus on those things. There are some of the unteachable moments when you come into a poem and I'm teaching a student a poem and say, 'Wow, I wish I had written this.' I don't know why. It just seems magical. I try to get at why it works, but yet, I think even in the best poems there are those moments where it rises above in some mysterious way."
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
I am a poet (and sometimes fiction writer). Right now, especially love poetry interests me. And the sonnet form.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Unfortunately, the impact of any poetry upon the globe is limited due to the fact that very few people read much poetry, but part of my job at Texas Tech is to change that one reader at a time. I like to demystify poetry for students and help them to find the pleasures in reading. Certainly, my poems are read near and far, but I don't like to try and fool myself that I'm some kind of celebrity. It's pretty humbling to find out how few people, especially Americans, read poetry. But sometimes I'll get an email or a letter from someone about one of my poems, and I am astonished. I try to remind myself to contact other poets when I am moved by their work. Even the most famous poets respond kindly, as they rarely get fan mail. The great poetry that changes the language—we rarely ever know what that poetry is in our lifetimes. It's only until hundreds of years later that we know. That doesn't mean we don't try!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Like most poets, I bristle at the term "inspiration" even though the Romantics made good use of it and had complex ideas about its function. Yet the term (literally meaning "breath") makes poetry seem as if it magically descends upon the poet like a pleasant breeze. I have struggled with a line or a single word for hours, finally throwing the whole poem into the trash.
That's a different kind of breathing. It is hard work trying to articulate something that has a multiplicity of meaning, feeling, and thought. Concerning subject matter, mine has ranged from ghost towns to erotic love to rivers to my daughters to neurosurgery. Of course, it's not hard work like loading and unloading tractor trailers, which I did for four years.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
We hold an event every year called Poetry by Heart, where students, teachers, staff, and the general Lubbock community come together to recite poems for an evening. We recite anything from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare to some contemporary poet. It's a way for people to carry a poem around inside them, to know as well as they know the back of their own hands. It really is a thrill to see people caring so deeply about words, about someone else's poem, that they would take the time to make it a part of themselves.
What are you currently working on?
I'm finishing a book of love poems that I hope some publisher will want to print, and I'm deep in the middle of another book manuscript concerning rivers and landscapes.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?
Love what you do. Combine all your interests: eating, flyfishing, gardening, YouTube, children's books, whatever. There's a way for most of us to integrate our interests with our primary research. I do realize it's probably easier for poets to do this than physicists, though a physics professor could probably write an interesting study concerning the speed of bubbles in Guinness stout.
I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, but I grew up mostly in Atlanta. I have an associate's degree in physics, but I found my way to poetry not too shortly after that. I have an M.F.A. from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. from the University of North Texas.