Continuing Education

Exploring Poetry Workshop

It may be surprising to learn Continuing Education’s new Poetry Workshop instructor Graham Isaac’s appreciation for poetry was not seeded in a lyrical fashion. He was not exposed to poetry through a survey of English Lit or infected by late night slams in a smoky coffee shop. ImageIsaac learned to love poetry through the most prosaic, if not organic of means—something that undoubtedly rooted his love of words more deeply than most. “I first grew to love poetry when I was learning to type,” he recalls.  “My grandmother had been a secretary for years, so she taught me how to type on an old desktop computer. She would dictate poems from the 101 Famous Poems compilation and a couple of books of limericks and children's poetry. I can still recite some of those pieces to this day. From then on, I always had an affinity for it.”

Asking Isaac to pin down a handful of his favorite poets is cause for consternation in any bibliophile, but two writers in particular offered him genuine inspiration. “I love the work of Czeslaw Milosz, a polish author who lived through some of the most horrific events of the last century. His work can be stark, but also playful, and the ways he places world events and very private ruminations next to each other without diminishing either creates a powerful read. Anne Sexton stands as a great writer not just of incredibly personal, confessional—but still literary—work, but with Transformations examined persona and cultural influences in ways that foregrounded a lot of types of writing you see today.”Image

For Isaac, poetry’s ability to illuminate is as limitless as his love for the medium.  “It's fun! It's cathartic! You can let a lot of stuff out on the page in ways that are more immediate than in, say, a short story,” he says. “Poetry also allows you to explore unresolved conflicts between different thoughts and feelings. You can resolve these contradictions in the course of a poem, but you don't have to. And that's something that I find really exciting.”

Isaac knows he is stepping into the big shoes of a much-beloved instructor, but is undaunted by the challenges he faces. “I have some of the materials from John Newman, and to start out I plan to generally follow his format. As the class goes on, I'll tweak and adjust to my own teaching style, but this class is long running for a reason, and I think a lot of that has to do with the ways John taught.”

More than anything, Isaac looks forward to exploring the creative efforts of his students. “Watching a writer take their work from an idea to a finished piece is something I enjoy quite a bit,” he says. “My goal is to provide an environment where students can get feedback on Imagetheir work in a safe, constructive space. I'll be there to provide examples of different poets and poetic styles, but it's really about the community and producing work. Coming away from this class, my hope is that students will better understand the process of both writing and reading a poem. And hopefully they'll have produced some works they're proud of.”

Learn more about Poetry Workshop.