College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Summer Poets in Residence: Where are they now?

Since 2007, the Summer Poet in Residence (SPiR) program at UM has provided talented poets opportunities to further their work and share their expertise with those on campus. The residency is designed to promote ample writing time and enrich summer courses with the presence of an active poet on campus.

Recently, Beth Ann Fennelly, director of the M.F.A. program, contacted UM’s former SPiRs for an update on their professional accomplishments and reflections on their time in Oxford.

Paula Bohince, 2007 SPiR

Paula Bohince was named the first-ever SPiR. Since her residency, she received the 2007 “Discovery”/The Nation Award, the Grolier Poetry Prize, grants from the Puffin and the Ludwig Vogelstein foundations, and residencies from the MacDowell Colony. In 2008, Bohince was the Amy Clampitt Resident Fellow in Massachusetts.

Her poems have appeared in Agni, The Antioch Reviews, FIELD, Poetry Northwest and Shenandoah. Her first poetry collection, Incident at the Edge of Bayoner Woods, was published in 2008 by Sarabande Books, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Where are you now?

“I live in Pennsylvania and spent the summer of 2012 as the Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place. I recently spent a year abroad as the 2010-11 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar.”

How did having the SPiR impact your writing?

“The summer residency at UM was a wonderful, productive time for me. Some of the earliest poems from my second collection, The Children (Sarabande, 2012), were written in the Grisham house. I’m very grateful to have had the time and space to concentrate completely on these new poems.”

What is the fondest memory of your residency?

“I loved spending time with the warm and inviting Ole Miss community of students, faculty and administrators. It was a pleasure to visit undergraduate writing classes; give a reading at the Depot; and host a salon for the talented and dedicated MFA students to discuss an array of writing and publishing issues. One of my favorite experiences was visiting Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, which is steps away from the Grisham house. I still can recall standing beside the grape arbor, alone, at dusk, feeling so humble and thankful to be there, at that moment. Oxford is a dream of a town, and I treasure every memory of that lovely summer.”

Tung-Hui Hu, 2008 SPiR

Tung-Hui Hu is the author of two collections of poetry, Mine (Ausable Press, 2007) and The Book of Motion (University of Georgia Press, 2003), a Contemporary Poetry Series collection.

Described as a “contained surreal style that deftly shapes a philosophical argument” (Los Angeles Times), his writing has appeared in places such as The New Republic, Ploughshares, Poetry Daily and “Martha Stewart Living Radio.” Hu holds an A.B. from Princeton and an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan.

Where are you now?

“I’m an assistant professor at the University of Michigan — half creative writing and half film/media studies. I’m also excited to be teaching at Kundiman, the Asian-American poetry retreat, for the first time this year. I live in a small “house of the future” in Ann Arbor, which has no walls on the inside.”

How did having SPiR impact your writing?

“That was the summer my book began to crystallize. Before I went, I had a crazy structure planned — a long series of nine five-part poems — and the SPiR let me let go of that weight and see what I was really writing about. Which, it turns out, wasn’t about missing bees or the 1960s or any of those subjects, but something more general: the persistence of images from the past.”

Is there any project/book of yours we should know about? 

Greenhouses, Lighthouses is coming out this fall from Copper Canyon. I also built an odd art project using computer-generated poems — pictures are at http://www.architizer.com/en_us/projects/view/last-time-you-cried/6545.”

What is the fondest memory of your residency?

“Oh, so many. A few days after I arrived, you all invited me to see Maurice Manning read; this was my introduction to the program. After the reading that night, everyone went out to the yard and a couple of people — Greg Brownderville was there, I think — were on guitar playing ‘Hallelujah’ around the bonfire. Thinking of that setting still makes me shiver a little. I loved meeting everyone in Oxford — talking about writing, which is usually a fraught subject for me (still is), felt effortless. I miss the path through the woods and Big Bad Breakfast and badminton on your yard.”

Jake Adam York, 2009 SPiR

Jake Adam York is the author of three books of poems—Murder Ballads (2005), winner of the Elixir Prize in Poetry; A Murmuration of Starlings (2008), co-winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition and winner of the Colorado Book Award; and Persons Unknown (2010), published by Southern Illinois University Press as an editor’s selection in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.

His work has appeared in numerous literary journals including The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, New South, Ninth Letter, Shenandoah, The Northwest Review, and Poetry Daily.

An associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, York co-edits Copper Nickel. In 2009, York was the University of Mississippi’s Summer Poet in Residence, and in 2011, he was the Richard Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. He was a 2011-2012 Visiting Faculty Fellow at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University.

Originally from Alabama, York was educated at Auburn and Cornell. He is also the author of a work of literary criticism, The Architecture of Address: The Monument and Public Speech in American Poetry, published by Routledge in 2005.

He is currently at work on a book of poems entitled Abide and a critical study of artistic responses to the Civil Rights Movement entitled Two or Three Forevers: Contemporary Art and Civil Rights Memory.

Where are you now?

Still in Denver, writing, teaching, and editing still, though between my Mississippi summer and this one I’ve spent a semester at Kenyon College as the Richard L. Thomas Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and a year at Emory University as a research fellow at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference. So no one knows where I am right now, but I just cleaned my house.

 

How did having the SpiR impact your writing?

I was able to complete my third book, Persons Unknown, in Oxford and get it under contract. It came out in late 2010 as an editor’s selection in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. I started another project which ended up splitting, mitosis-style, into six books I’m collectively calling Inscriptions for Air: one of these is complete now and circulating, and two other parts are about halfway done. I’ll be traveling through Mississippi next Spring to research the other three parts. I left Oxford with a lot of momentum; even now, I feel propelled.

 

Is there any project/book of yours we should know about? 

Persons Unknown is, in some ways, a record of the time I spent in Mississippi between 2007 and 2009, ending with the SPiR residency, so I hope folks in Oxford know about that. I’ve just finished a manuscript called Abide, a meditation on memory and race and the blues, which I hope will come out in 2013/2014 and show where my work has gone with the inertia I got from the SPiR.

 

What is the fondest memory of your residency?

I remember clearly one morning in the upstairs study, discovering a wasp on the desk. I’m a little allergic, so I sat quietly, hoping it would go away so I could escape; while I waited, I noticed, terrified and transfiexed, for the first time how luminescent the bodies of wasps are, how the light passes through them. This is where poems come from.

Sandra Beasley, 2010 SPiR

Sandra Beasley won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for I Was the Jukebox, selected by Joy Harjo and published by W.W. Norton. Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize judged by Marie Howe. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Poetry, Slate, Black Warrior Review, Blackbird and The Believer; she was also featured in The Best American Poetry 2010.

Awards for her work include a DCCAH Individual Artist Fellowship, the Friends of Literature Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the Maureen Egen Exchange Award from Poets & Writers and the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize from Passages North. She has received fellowships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Jentel Artist Residency, the Millay Colony, VCCA and Vermont Studio Center.

Beasley received an M.F.A. in creative writing from American University and studied poetry at the University of Virginia, where she received a B.A. in English literature. She serves on the board of the Writer’s Center and as the literary chair for the Arts Club of Washington.

Her poetry has been featured in Washington Post Magazine, Poets & Writers and many online venues. She is working on Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, forthcoming from Crown, as well as her third poetry collection.

Where are you now?

“I am back in my hometown of Washington, D.C., as much as I am in any one place: I’ve become quite the road warrior since my time as a SPiR, with 30,000 miles put on my car in 2011 alone for readings and classroom visits. Luckily many of those trips have taken me back toward Mississippi, which has become a kind of heart-home. Whenever I’m gone too long, my feet get anxious; they miss the dancing.”

How did having the SPiR impact your writing?

“While in residence with Ole Miss, I got toehold on my third collection, titled (for now) Count the Waves. That was an important summer of living for me — a watershed of sorts — and I could not have written the poems that have come since then without that experience. Just one afternoon where I sat in the living room, feeling the rain pound through a screen door as I read poems, was worth a thousand sonnet drafts.”

Is there any project/book of yours we should know about? 

“As of late I’ve been on tour for my memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, which is now out in paperback.

“I will never forget reading all 60,000 words to myself, in the master bedroom of the Grisham house, before hitting send on the file to my publisher. That was the first thing I had to do upon arrival in Oxford.”

What is the fondest memory of your residency?

“The best times were when I got to host folks at the Grisham house, whether they be undergraduates visiting for an afternoon poetry discussion, or graduates over for a feast and frank talk about the publishing world, or faculty over for an evening round of bocce on the side lawn, or anybody and everybody wandering in for a party. The mosquitoes were fierce, but the sense of community was fiercer. Those are the moments when you know you’ve stumbled into something magical.”

Jay Leeming, 2011 SPiR

Jay Leeming is the author of two books of poems: Dynamite on a China Plate (Backwaters Press, 2006) and Miracle Atlas (Big Pencil Press, 2011). His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines including Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry East and Pleiades, and he has been a featured reader at Butler University, the Omega Institute, Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference and the Woodstock Poetry Festival.

He is the editor and founder of the magazine Rowboat: Poetry in Translation, and has taught poetry workshops throughout the United States and abroad. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and served as Poet Laureate of Tompkins County from 2009 to 2010.

Where are you now?

“I am living in Ithaca, N.Y., and celebrating two births: that of my second book of poems and of my month-old daughter Eloise. So life is beautifully full for me at the moment! My book is called Miracle Atlas and was published by Writers and Books in December of 2011. My time as a SPiR in Oxford is a delightful memory for me; I remember days filled with summer heat and fertile idleness.  Especially now, as a busy father, I appreciate all the time I had in Oxford, whether to explore large piles of poetry books or to go for walks in the simmering streets after dark.”

Is there any project/book of yours we should know about? 

“Besides my new book, I’ve also been busy editing the second issue of Rowboat: Poetry in Translation, a magazine I started about a year ago. This issue features poems from a wide variety of places including Uruguay, Spain, Japan, Russia and Estonia, in translations by folks such as Coleman Barks, Jerome Rothenberg and Alexis Levitin. In all honesty I think it’s a pretty amazing poetic smorgasbord, and I’m really happy to have it out in the world. Folks can submit and subscribe to Rowboat at our website, which is www.RowboatMagazine.com.”

What is the fondest memory of your residency?

“I can think of two moments that summarize the residency for me. The first would be my reading at Square Books, where I felt completely welcomed by the communities both of UM and of Oxford.

“The second would be the walk to Faulkner’s house, and the feeling of generous eloquence that seemed to be coming right out of the ground, into the boards of the house and the bookshelves and up into the leaves of the trees. I felt welcomed in Oxford, and I felt free to be myself. Being there was a generous gift, and in many ways I am still nourished by it.”