Szeism: a poetic

Szeism: a poetic  Malpais, fall 2013 https://nmreviewofbooks.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/malpais-review-a-quarterly-literary-publication-in-new-mexico/

by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke  (note: format is problematic in this post transfer)

Arthur Sze created a truly significant movement while teaching at the Institute of

American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program. In conjunction with Anne Waldman

establishing summer stays at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and Sze

bringing in (as class guests) everyone from Chinese dissidents, Misty Poets, Deep Image Poets,

Beats, Black Mountain Poets, New York School Poets, Language Poets, Translators, Brown

faculty Forrest Gander and C.D. Wright, experimental and narratology representatives,

musicality-led poetics, Quincy Troupe, and also a few Native Renaissance and Peruvian

poets, we, as his students over many years, actually met some of the field’s best in our

classroom, studied more of the field in class with both Arthur and Jon Davis (initially, Jon

taught fiction workshops and literature classes, including contemporary poetry), and further,

through this continual mentorship in poetics and possibilities, and constant seeking of sources

for us, as his students, so inspired a whole new opening in what became publishable, from any

of us, in the poetry field, dismissing the notion that the poetic had to be anything anticipated

from the school, from the publishing field, the Native Lit canon, Native Renaissance, newer

Post-Renaissance Alexie/Louis movements, or anything at all other than adept poems created

by students under his tutelage.

Arthur Sze employed the “Luminous Method” in teaching poetry/poetics. His focus was

not directed upon what was not working in a student attempt, but what did work and

enhancing and exploring those avenues. His offerings included the 51 pieces comprising A

Fool’s Life, an autobiographical Japanese poetic written by Akutagawa Ryunosuke in 1927, in

a disembodied search of self in disturbing sketches of life/death. He offered us numerous

Chinese and Japanese texts that we translated and worked alongside. He endeared the

possibility to us through the most comfortable and unexpected manners. As many of us came

from places where all we had was our families, he made a big hit bringing radicals his mother

created with his literal translations below each one so that we could use these to translate the

poems from his mother tongue. The linguistic study allowed us to translate into Indigenous

languages before we got to English translations, I think, in some way we maybe got closer to

the original intentions through this process. At least we hoped so. We attended to the poetry

carefully and thoughtfully, just as it was presented to us. Sze opened our idea of poetic and

global conversations and created a course program steeped in poetic possibilities. It was

mastery.

Jon Davis was encouraged, by Sze, to teach Contemporary Poetry by schools/movements,

and this coupling of approach in workshop and in broad study of the field, with intimate

delivery of the field into our own classroom, gave us the ability to develop our own

movements in ways I have rarely experienced in any other school I have visited. We were

immersed, steeped fully, and each had a unique flavoring we brought with us and thus our

own kettles and cups.

This is where we came from, IAIA students of poetry during the tenure of now emeritus

professor Arthur Sze; we came from the class design he created and organized pedagogically

with Jon Davis to gift us with pure possibility and a knowledge of and commitment to poetry

and poetics.

During the latter two-year program phase when the school was housed on the College of

Santa Fe’s St. Michaels campus, this is where I came from, too. Some of my classmates/peers

(in study of various genres, media/film, or 2/3D art forms) were Crisosto Apache, Kirsten

Wilson, Garth Lahren, Anissa Dressler, Neilwood R. Begay, Heidi Rankin, Philippe

Alexandre, Natasha Terry (all already attending already prior to my arrival), Milton Apache,

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Tommy Keahbone, Gino Antonio, Molly Shackleford-BigKnife, Da-ka-xeen Mehner,

Maxine Smith, Sandy Nakai, Tess Benally, Nodwessioux Red Bear, Anderson Jim, Eddie

Morrison, Debra Yepa, Chris Pappan, David Pippin, Michael Lujan, Geraldine Barney, Ruth

Mustus, Victoria Begay, Heather Ahtone, Chuck Shepard, Jerry Brown, Melissa Pope,

Carlson Vicenti, Joe Munoz, and in my final year there, Esther Belin came in from Berkeley

and joined the class, with Eli Funaro and David Fields.

James Thomas Stevens (immediately delivering a new and exciting poetic to the table) was

a graduate student at Brown at the time and went on to be the first IAIA graduate to win a

Whiting Award. Irvin Morris (IAIA and then UC Santa Cruz alumnus, novelist) was at

Cornell, so anything academic already seemed plausible by the time we came in behind them.

Stevens published a first book-length poem, Tokinish, about the time I graduated IAIA

(heading off to the Vermont College MFA Program), and this, I believe, would be the first

poetry volume representing the shift and the new era of poetic era coming about through

IAIA. I first pressed a limited released of The Year of the Rat, as a chapbook length poem during

my IAIA residency at Naropa, and Crisosto Apache pressed a limited release of 51. Defeat,

simultaneously at Naropa, on the Students for Ethnic Inclusion fellowship there, at roughly

the same time as Stevens’ release. Both Apache and I composed these works at IAIA and

Naropa that spring and summer. Noteworthy, is the fact these volumes published the year

after the Quincentennial, kicking off that 21st Century Turn that has truly expanded Native

poetics into a new force to be reckoned with. IAIA had been a leader in the arts for thirty

years already at the time of this shift. The Native Renaissance in the arts literally happened at

IAIA, when it was in its infancy as a post-high school residential program, and poetry was a

part of that as well, through Vincent Price’s generosity and later, in its final phases with Phil

Foss opening things up in publishing Tyuoni and instructing poetry at IAIA as Sze was moving

to Santa Fe to join him. A notable student of Foss’s was Elizabeth Woody and notable early

IAIA student Joy Harjo came to paint and left, still painting, but already beginning her poetic.

Harjo came back to join Phil Foss, helping to initiate the Creative Writing Program, Arthur

Sze then directed.

Anne Waldman and IAIA established the Naropa union with IAIA, a few years before we

entered, offering a selection of promising students an opportunity to serve, first as fellows in

the graduate program, and, in later years, as scholars in the bachelors program in their

Summer Institute. We were fortunate to be there with Ginsberg in his final years through this

unique liaison in the field. Early fellows in this union included James Thomas Stevens and

Crisosto Apache. I remember my own fellowship(s) fondly and return there fairly often to

teach, even still.

The excursion was sometimes shocking, to be introduced, at the end of your freshman year

at IAIA, to a fulltime resident graduate program as Ginsberg’s summer fellow, wherein Anne

Waldman was teaching your residency winning new poem, for me, “The Change,” as her

MFA program muse for exercise. For her to ask you to come with her to read the piece to the

workshop, was wonderful and crazy strange. Though I contended with Ginsberg in several

arenas, he took it well, or could care less, and read Howl and Kaddish for me in response to my

poetic concerns with my mother’s schizophrenia and our constant moving. Though he

stripped himself of clothing during a dinner despite pleas from me not to, whereas I

immediately called Arthur. Actually, I called him several times during my first summer there,

overly taxed with large concerns about our viability there, about general cultural

appropriation(s) happening and lack of awareness of what the Quincentennial conversation

they were hosting actually meant to us, to wit he assured me it will be fine, instructed me to

just relax and enjoy the program and “get what you can from it,” to use the time to write and

meet new poets with other ways. He said that many of these poets were field friends of his and

nothing bad would happen. He was sure. He said to stick it out and write new poems there. I

did and I have never regretted it. In fact, it was the presence of Amiri Baraka that brought me

to book publication, eventually. His generosity and reach were immense toward Crisosto and

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I and we fell into his summer mentorship fully. I would have not had a chance to meet him, or

many of the other writers in any other time or place, I’m sure. I can only imagine how the

liaison residencies went for other IAIA students and alumni, but for me, and for Crisosto with

me, we got through it and wrote tons and enjoyed being there together in the midst of the

seeming madness, and we made friends. Many of the mentor poets there have remained

friends since and I have been a rotating summer faculty for Naropa for many years now, still

enjoying the delicate and immense flavor of a school soaked in Dharma. I don’t know about

anyone else, but I grew to appreciate and love many of them just as Arthur would have it. It

was his confidence in us that allowed us to go to uncomfortable places and stick it out. In our

poetry, in our work, in our lives, and yet he did this with such grace, it was as if you thought of

it yourself, or came to terms with the idea just hearing him agreeable to it.

Most of the rest of the liaison residencies, IAIA students have recently enjoyed, would soon

be available (due to exhaustive work by Sze and now Davis) and just three years after my own

graduation, 1993 (AFA), Sherwin Bitsui came in to the school in 1996, graduating (AFA) in

1999 with Laura Da’, and many others, during what some have referred to as the golden age

of the program, whereas the pedagogical approach and methodology were in place and the

classes ran the way they ran and the students flourished madly, and then the two-year school

became a four-year school, with students who stayed on during the transfer and began long

stays for new bachelor degrees.

About the time of the first full BFA graduating class, in 2006, Arthur retired after nearly

twenty-five years of leadership (to become the first Santa Fe Poet Laureate and IA’s first

emeritus professor) and I returned to fill-in for that initial year. IAIA recent graduates

included Orlando White, Santee Frazier, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Sara Ortiz, dg okpik, Cathy

Rexford, and many other promising poets who had all studied poetry with Sze and Davis.

The student body included Ungelbah Davila, Kateri Menominee, Tacey Atsitty (actually on

leave that year, but enrolled), James Honeburger, Layli Long Soldier (graduated 2009) and

many others. Since then, Erika Wurth, Mark Turcotte and James Thomas Stevens have all

worked with/mentored poetry students there, Stevens staying on in a more permanent

teaching position since 2009. All along the program was endowed with the constant

work/mentorship of the new Santa Fe Poet Laureate, Jon Davis (in his second year at IAIA

when I was a freshman), who has produced some significant work and, well, a lot has

happened.

Arthur sits on the Board of Chancellors for the Academy of American Poets, he is a

Lannan Foundation Literary Awardee, was awarded fellowships from the National

Endowment for the Arts (2), and Guggenheim Foundation, other awards include the

American Book Award, Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers’ Award, Western States Book

Award for Translation, four Witter-Bynner Foundation for Poetry grants, Pen Southwest

Book Award, Balcones Poetry Prize, Asian American Literary Award, Mountains & Plains

Independent Booksellers Association Book Award and, most recently the Jackson Poetry

Prize. He has served as a Doenges Visiting Artist at Mary Baldwin College, a Visiting Hurst

Professor at Washington University, and has conducted residencies at Brown, Bard, and

Naropa, all schools he has fostered IAIA student relationships with, as well as Vermont Studio

Arts. Always attending to the needs of other poets, he recently released Chinese Writers on

Writing, the first collection to offer reflections of writers, on work, process, and political

challenges for a poet. The anthology is both an ode and another (global) opening in the poetry

field and in poetic conversation, yet based in something so absolutely close to heart, cultural

poetics.

Nearly all of this has happened since I was in Sze’s classroom, which, right now, seems just

a short time ago. We studied with Sze before he was vastly discovered and none of this is

surprising in the least having spent the time we did with him and having the privilege to

witness the genius at work. And I teach his work today. Some of my favorite volumes include:

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The Gingko Light, The Redshifting Web, Quipu, Archipelago, and The Silk Dragon (translations). Before

I met Arthur, he had written River, River (1987), Dazzled (1982), Two Ravens (1976), and The

Willow Wind (1972) and he had been awarded an Eisner Prize and a New Mexico Arts

Division Interdisciplinary Grant, and one of the NEA Fellowships and two of the Witter-

Bynner awards. While we sat in his class, he was awarded the George A. and Eliza Gardner

Howard Foundation and his second NEA. He had submitted The Silk Dragon to Copper

Canyon Press and was waiting while we sat in his classroom. Later, I believe Archipelago was

chosen as a National Poetry Series winner, but not by Copper Canyon, where Sze was hoping

to find a home for his new works. So, always true to integrity, he declined the prize and

waited for Copper Canyon to press, and press they did, by my last count Copper Canyon has

pressed five of Arthur’s books and is obviously committed to him. His works have been

translated into a dozen languages, or more, including Chinese, Italian, Romanian, Turkish

and Spanish.

Davis, as well, has been greatly recognized and awarded and continues to produce viable

works, including three chapbooks and three full volumes of poetry, most recently Preliminary

Report, a screenplay and numerous pieces of fiction and nonfiction prose. He was also awarded

with a Lannan Literary Prize and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and was

a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown (where he also directed the writing

program), and edited CutBank, Shankpainter, and Countermeasures: A Magazine of Poetry

& Ideas, a journal that intended to rock the conversation off its comfortable feet, and did.

Crisosto Apache (my IAIA peer who starred on MTV’s IAIA debut then and created

multimedia works in poetry, a type of language poetry, and poetry animations), now, after

dedicating himself to community work for years and years, and serving as national director of

a Two-Spirit association, has three new manuscripts in the works. Crisosto began studying at

IAIA just before I did, was influenced by James Thomas Stevens’ work, and attended class

with Stevens and earlier students. And Crisosto and I were there together, as well, just

following, and spent Naropa summers together, worked with Leslie Scalapino and Lyn

Hejinian together at IAIA and at Naropa (who then published some of our experimental and

language work in O Books, Subliminal Times), and with Bob Creeley, Anselm Hollo, Robert

Kelly, Jack Collom, Bobbi Louise Hawkins, Anne Waldman, Andrew Schelling, Amiri

Baraka, Steven Taylor, Ed Sanders, Bernadette Mayer, Wanda Coleman, many others, many

Pound and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche followers, and many movement leaders. We

attended Naropa with Eleani Sikelianos, Laird Hunt, Rebecca Bush, Brenda Coultas, Lee

Ann Brown, and were together in the midst of the Quincentennial doings (at Naropa and in

Santa Fe) about that time, in what is already considered a shift in fiction and nonfiction in the

thing they call Native Lit. For whatever reason, we assumed then we were a big shift as well,

because we were not producing work that looked anything like any Native poets established in

the field at that time. Though we appreciated all of them, at least what we knew at the time

from their class visits, our mentorship really was the open page and possibility, period.

Arthur Sze, in his commitment to our uniqueness in poetics and his belief that we

represented families and experiences too diverse to caption, instilled the idea that the issue

was the work, the poetic, and also the prose, script, music, or artistic choice (2 and 3D). Many

of us worked in a variety of forms. There were many multi-genre writers in the mix with

poetry students, and more also in music and performance, sculpture, jewelry, painting, some

of us in all of it, or many portions thereof. Some students came and left creative writing,

attending in the early 90s and returned for the bachelors program and some of them have

returned again now as IAIA opens its MFA program.

Student experience at IAIA, as a college, always ranged from fresh from high school to

never attended high school and still young (under thirty-five) but already with kids, maybe

widowed already as well, to those true returning students among us who ranged from their

mid-thirties up to their seventies like Connie Yellowtail Jackson in my class or Ken Taylor in

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class with Kateri Menominee. All, or most, of us working in advanced media, on computers at

the school, within a writing studio (at least since the 1992 protest by creative writing students

and the return of Macintosh desktops that had been hijacked on the way to the creative

writing department and the later delivery of the first laptops available for student/faculty

checkout and entry of the students into the internet age), roughly the same as many other

schools. We were open.

The school has continually housed students born of families from traditional, remote

communities, to those adopted out/fostered out and raised away from the community most of

their lives, with most of the student body enrolled, some with heritage but off rolls, and a few

non-Native as well, including exchange students from Japan, to any range of the Indigenous

experience between, including those born of families represented in the 1961, film

noir/ethnography piece, The Exiles, by Kent Mackenzie that so clearly details days in the life

of the urban communities, following the American Indian Urban Relocation(s) beginning in

1953 (U.S. government intending to terminate tribes) and continuing, as work for

hire/following jobs life practice through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. And in some ways,

these physical movements opened the school as well, as its first post-high school students were

enrolled in 1962, during these early days. In some ways a better population of the school has

been exiles and some might say the recent departures around the turn of the century are also

in exile from expectations preconceived in the Native Renaissance, or in the Post-Native

Renaissance onsets of Native Literature (if you can call it that). Some of the young students

who come to IAIA never live at home again and remain in that cosmopolitan place, or others,

go in search of a career in the arts perhaps less available to many in the places they arrived

from initially. Some stay for decades, and some never leave. So, although arriving from a

traditional place, they may not return there, or at least not fully so, though seasonal visiting

continues and place is perhaps close despite the distance. In some ways, the new poetic is an

exile poetic, and yet as Anna Lee Walters notes in Neon Pow Wow (a volume pressing several of

the newer poets in 1993), closer to the actual traditions than what is expected. Honed true.

In some ways, Sze, is for a remarkable number of his students and the new field, what

Pound was for contemporary poetry in general. Sze is our Pound. Our muse, fortunately, is

not fascist, so the ability to be treated as poets was not limited in the least. In the early days of

the new school, in our poetic departures from the established expectations, we studied

linguistics, (including translations of 700 AD Chinese poetry) which, after the first few years

became a class in “the poetic image,” and embarked on exercises from witnessing, meditation,

projective verse, experimental language poetics, and began to move in ways we chose to move

through, by our own device, with his careful mentorship and guidance, and with the support

of Jon Davis in the study of the field (and later in poetry workshops). Each poet developed

his/her own poetic as influenced with possibility and availability of the page through

enhancement of knowns and imaginative unknowns. Compilations ranged from new forms

and experimentation to reawakening the epic (from classic forms in oratory), but with a

unique contemporary spin and in-line caesura breath (inhalations/exhalations or rhythmic

pause) inclusions, bringing us into a turn at the cusp of the 21st century when some of us

began to publish and continuing now for almost twenty years of change.

Davis notes,

“Arthur also encouraged me when I was developing the Contemporary Poetry

course, to use the “schools approach,” which became a key to laying open the “course

in poetic possibilities.” We talked a lot about guiding students in whatever direction

they were headed, but also pushing them past the “given,” the first thrust into the

unknown.

After the first few years, we fell into a routine, with Arthur teaching “The Poetic

Image” (formerly Linguistics) alongside my Poetry I. This was the ideal system, since

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the students would get two versions of a “basic skills” course, focused on the image

and attention to language, that we would then both start stretching, with Arthur in

Poetry II, III, and IV (though we also started alternating these, often with me coming

back for the level IV) and Arthur, mostly, doing Independent Studies, and with me

laying out the schools (and teaching Projective Verse, which was always the highlight

of the semester–and still is). Students often thought we’d conspired, especially when

we’d bring up the same poets or have almost identical comments on the same days,

but the courses were entirely independent ventures. And, of course, our aesthetics

were often very different, but somehow compatible.”

I absolutely loved my Independent Study semesters. Truly breakout poetic interplay and

prose leaping madness, chapbook and novel drafting, wonderfully so. We only had

ourselves/our peers, but moreover ourselves, and the Independent Study time was critical and

crucial to our growth. I believe I took workshop levels one and two together, in poetry and

prose, my first semester, and maybe took the third level singularly before beginning the

Independent Study. I took up well over twenty units a semester, I believe, so finished up

quickly and just lived in the Independent Study until it was time to go and move out into an

unknown and unfamiliar and previously inconceivable graduate world, skipping to MFA

study from AFA graduation just like my peer predecessor Stevens, and then realizing my

contemporaries were from the IAIA program more than anyone outside the place.

Interestingly, many of the poets from the school, who began to publish book-length

works/chapbooks within the last four-five years, including Santee Frazier, Orlando White, dg

okpik, Cathy Rexford, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Tacey Atsitty, Ungelbah Davila, Kateri

Menominee (all have bachelors from IAIA), have expanding field companions such as Cedar

Sigo (who also studied at Naropa), Craig Santos Perez, Brandy McDougall, and many others

who are also working in the away-from-anticipated-poetic, continually, in a lingual field shake

up, with what the expectation < refused appears like in its new truer form (or not, but here is a

play on the early work and statements of Treuer, as well, and there is truth there). The

opening opened widely. Post-coloniality still exists in the poetic, and rightly so, and the poetry

is often in English, so not truly decolonized, yet surely the poetry is comparable to something

other that the earlier waves of renaissance, its post phase leadership, or, as haphazardly

occurred in a recent review, with traditional chants collected by an infiltrator among Mayan

people (who, by the way have a huge body of representative contemporary poets, of course).

Yet the departures were easily seen in the field, as well. Perhaps no more so than in

attendance at a 1992/Quincentennial response – historic gathering of Indigenous writers who

met at the Returning the Gift Conference at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, The

gathering included an IAIA contingency van and at least two solo IAIA vehicles, whereas the

larger body of national/international poets and writers held a few days of conversation,

readings, and workshops uniting the field in a way previously unmet. Here, it was already

clear the poetic IAIA carried was different than the whole represented, or any notable portion

thereof, and somewhat incongruous, differently based and forward paced, yet not wholly

incompatible to conversation, often challenging it.

This movement has traveled and worked with other Native people in a hemispheric and

global sense. Like Native Renaissance poet Linda Hogan, Layli Long Soldier and Jennifer

Elise Foerster were both raised abroad as well as in the US, in diplomatic families, ripe with

openness endowing their sensibilities and enhancing their knowledge and companionship with

other poets from many places.

Stevens has traveled broadly and worked with poets and programs in several countries,

including Turkey, Scotland, France, Jordan, and China. Bitsui and I began to work with poets

in Colombia in 2005, and he has also worked with poets in Peru, Mexico, and Europe,

previously, and I go wherever/whenever I can to do the same, as do many others at this time.

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Foerster’s mother directs a program in Nicaragua and she is a global traveler and worker. So

we are unlimited in some ways, more than in the past, and coming in with poetic boundaries,

only as found in poetry, and removing them layer-by-layer, versus being stuck to them, held

to, or repressed by them.

One need only review the IAIA annual anthology series to note where the departures for

the 21st Century turn began, and where those departures became lasting poetic for any

contributor. There is clear evidence in the early nineties, with work by Stevens, Apache, and

many others and continues through the most recent twenty years to formulate into something

malleable as movement without any necessarily shared tenets outside of possibility and

freedom on the page, in the collective and individual intent to create successful poems that

include concise imagery; embodiment of silence and space; rhythm/musicality; poetic

narratology; sustaining line, form, or gesture; meditative/obsessive witnessing; unexpected

juxtapositions/surprise; linguistics/cultural enhancements; translations; actual versus

historical experience, eg: labor/work, global travel, post-colonial/post-911 life, internet

intelligence, media mused; supported by broadly based historical knowledge of the poetry

field and its diverse movements, purposes and audiences, in the United States and in portions

of Asia, again teaching students, by individual example, to use what they know and search for

in their own work and in their teaching, as many of us have followed Sze’s footsteps into

classrooms, as well.

The poets who have come out of IAIA, in this latter timeframe, more than anything, I see

as my field colleagues and my peers in the field. The poets who preceded my stay by more

than a few years have been field mentors, but their poetic is vastly different and fits more

appropriately in the schools they defined, Native Renaissance and Post-Renaissance poetics.

They come from a different poetic and mostly came through IAIA before Sze began to teach

there, though some newer poets continue these earlier traditions, most of the students who

studied with Sze, and now in IAIA in general, do not. I was back at IA to teach briefly (during

the initial year Arthur retired), and inside the classroom I attempted to follow the lead I had

been graced with, in allowing students full access to my own knowns, about anything to do

with the subject at hand, and an encouragement of their own unique work and unique

musings that would become their poetic. And, we openly discussed the newer movements in

the field, including departures and new poetics of what was happening with the IAIA school

influence, which was not necessarily the norm to openly discuss yet, even on campus, and had

Sherwin Bitsui, Orlando White, Santee Frazier, and dg okpik visit the class to continue the

conversion, as well as the readers who come through the generous Lannan Writers in

Residence series and other means.

And, as IAIA tradition would have it, my sons, who, as small kids, wrote poems in the back

of Sze’s classroom and while we IAIA students read on stage, sat with Ginsberg, at Naropa,

who drew them cartoons, or Simon Ortiz, at the IAIA Museum, who encouraged them to

enjoy the words, and any number of field representatives, had become artists and/or writers,

and had attended art schools, as well. During this return year, my older son, Travis, finished

up his bachelors requirements at IAIA, graduating from Northern Michigan, before leaving

for the MFA Program at UCR and is still publishing poems he wrote in Sze’s class as a kid

along with these years of new works. The first poems were good poems. The mentorship Sze

gave was unilateral and extensive. He treated us all the same, seventies, twenties-thirties, and

small kid, in his class it was the poetry at hand and the assignment met and otherwise, no

judgment, despite age or previous place of reference, we were all there to write poems and he

was there for all of us to get it done.

As Arthur was my teacher, Jon, his colleague, also my teacher, my working with other

IAIA alumni who have entered the field has always been in the position of like-poet, period, a

poet who comes from the same school of poetry and had the same teachers as many of the

poets producing their first and second books today. Some of them I met directly through

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Arthur’s encouragement of our meeting, our conversation, and at times because Arthur hoped

I would help in some way. Others through Jon’s guidance with who might have something

ready to publish in the program. Like Arthur, it is important for me to foster conversation in

texts and to attempt to fill each avenue with poetry. In truth, each juncture lifts me, as I enjoy

so much the vibrancy, the thrum that comes from this and am thrilled by the new works, like

anyone else in the field. So, yes, I am a huge proponent of many others, a big fan of many

others, but, in the case of IAIA alumni, I am sometimes only a few years ahead, or a few years

behind, in the initial experience in that school and our study in these conversations. If

anything, I am a colleague in the field and that’s it. Not every student graduating from IA is

very young. It is a school of many ages and many stages of life and has been for decades.

Poetically, I feel far closer to these poets coming from the same line of training and freedom,

than I do my predecessors outside the Sze period, and so it has been vastly important for me

to bring them to any table I have privy to and hope they sit it out with me for the long run.

Many have done the same for me, have established themselves rapidly in the field, and we

reciprocate and, like any group in the larger field, it goes like this. Our works nurture each

other’s works and the body is inclusive and thoroughly IAIA induced and the departures

continue still, necessarily so, as the poetic possibilities always continue, so in some ways this is

perhaps an eternal movement, if such a thing is possible and the work will always bring

newness and innovation. All of this comes from Arthur’s guidance and so it should be.

I should say, it has been a tradition of IAIA poets to produce a first full-length work years

after finalizing study at IAIA. Though the work many composed while in school met

publication in journals, anthologies, or completion in chapbooks, the full-length first book,

even if poems were nearly completed at IAIA, was rarely released until three or four years had

passed post-graduation, or more. Some of this is due to long contracts upon acceptance

(ranging for up to four years in the late nineties early 2000’s), but most of it is due to a

patience in publication that Sze also instilled, simultaneously encouraging us to submit when a

piece was, in his opinion, ready (a very difficult moment for many of his students to discern

overall). And, a seven or eight year gap between first and second alumni volumes is not

uncommon, again, largely due, perhaps, to the patience in publication instilled during the

study, but also complicated with a field that still resists this specific shift to some degree and

continues to compare to earlier (unrelated) works, or classic forms in archaic works, or songs,

or Renaissance works, versus contemporary poetry in the field period. In the case of Crisosto

Apache, my peer, he is just beginning to maneuver his poetry in the form of book

manuscripts, but has so much already completed, he has two or three full volumes at work, in

progress at the same moment, now.

From the first day in workshop with Sze, one might quickly notice that versus any typical

criticism occurring when something simply was not working and an attempt to defend it was

raised, he would offer, “interesting,” with stilled expression, and, well, we got the point. On

the other hand, when anything was promising, coercion would occur with thoughtful focus on

the potential and acute details as to what the movement or inclusion was reminiscent of,

bringing in any variety of previous like-attempts cited from any era in poetic history, in any

culture, Sze had in mind to reference from. Again, always immersing us in something we

could drink from and nourishing us with readability and poetic thought.

I studied Sze the way a bird studies a breeze-swept branch and came to a point where I

could often guess what he would offer to an array of particulars in workshop. Sometimes

offering what I thought he might say before the conversation made its turns and he had to.

Enjoying the humor he derived from my assertions when it was close to what he would say

himself, I was learning to teach poetry in this way. I was modeling Sze and, though, like

anyone, I have my own methods and pedagogy, relying on a what-would-Arthur-do dynamic

in class has carried me through years of working with students of all ages, in all settings. It was

an amazing experience, for me, to witness him in class and to be privileged to study with him,

and maybe the most amazing thing was we, who had no previous teachers in poetry, thought

9

this was just how poetry is taught. Some of us have talked about this over the years and I

wonder how many of us attempt to model him in our own classrooms, especially during a

trying time, as we witnessed many in our workshop days. Students came from all walks of life

and from diverse cultures and families, and I once asked Arthur what it was like to work with

us, as rough as we were then, and he said it was like giving an MFA workshop in a halfway

house. I, as a freshman, said, “What’s an MFA?” the other, tragically obvious. I then asked

him how would someone get a job like his, or get his job, or some other awkward phrasing, he

smiled and laughed a bit and offered that by focusing on what is important in the poetry and

in the writing and your work and doing your best with it and that is all anyone can do, and he

was right. Truly, he was.

I wonder today how much of Arthur’s grace was derived from his time with Josephine

Miles and Denise Levertov as his poetry mentors and how much is just Arthur being Arthur. I

like to believe a bit of both, as it would pleasure me to no end to think it is possible to carry

some mentoring with you, in your own work, and yet be unique to the offering in how your

own application, as a teacher and as a poet. It feels right.

IAIA recently launched a new MFA Program. The director of the program is Jon Davis,

who continues to promote the school of poetic possibility, and inaugural faculty includes

Sherman Alexie, who begat a new post-colonial poetic that Adrian Louis and others

influenced and supported, who gained international attention and opened up the waves into a

more fluid conversation, and whose movements are being revisited heartily in another new

faculty member’s debut volume, Natalie Diaz. Diaz came out of Tim Siebles’ tutelage at Old

Dominion but was heartedly influenced by Alexie early on. One need only glance to find the

connection. It is there.

Joan Kane and Chip Livingston, two uniquely talented and exciting poets with amazingly

diverse influences and strikingly different current poetics, perhaps round out the genre

offerings significantly graced with IAIA alumni presence in the membership of Sherwin Bitsui,

Santee Frazier and Orlando White, all returning to teach poetry in the program, who bring

with them the adventurous moves in poetry each initiated while in study there and continued

elsewhere. Bitsui went on the University of Arizona. White received his MFA at Brown and

Frazier earned his MFA at Syracuse University. White teaches at Navajo Nation Community

College fulltime, as well. Stunning first collections have been pressed with the University of

Arizona Press within the past fifteen months by both dg okpik and Jennifer Foerster (a Stegner

Fellow), IAIA classmates of White and Frazier. And while Foerster’s keen narrative Southern

poetry is hot off the shelf, okpik’s, released a year prior, just won the American Book Award

for the image ridden/misty work she brings from the far north. Bitsui has been heavily lauded

and awarded (including an American Book Award, Whiting Award, PEN Open Book Award,

Witter-Bynner Award, and more), and, if any poet listed is a Sze protégé, or nearly so, he is

definitely notable in this manner, as is Laura Da’, just now publishing her first chapbook and

who also recently completed a full-length manuscript. Da’ and Bitsui were class

contemporaries, as well.

So keep a look out here, for the bright cut of horizon we receive in the deep image/misty

Sze influence coming to full term, here, expanding the poetic influence that continues moving the growing community. The generous mentorship Sze brings the larger field, and what he

brought to all of us, works by enhancing the best an incoming poet uniquely brings to the

table upon arrival, then culling each development to its prime. This is premier education and Arthur Sze is a premier mentor poet we easily embrace, and we quickly learn from his

guidance to embrace the presence that best serves the poetic within our own work. An

excellent muse.

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