Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Jeanne Marie BeaumontJeanne Marie Beaumont (Poetry) is a Philadelphia area native who moved to New York City in 1983. She earned an MFA in Writing from Columbia University. Her most recent book is Burning of the Three Fires (BOA Editions, 2010). Her first book, Placebo Effects, selected by William Matthews as a National Poetry Series winner, was published by W.W. Norton in 1997. Her second, Curious Conduct, was published by BOA Editions in 2004. Her fourth book of poetry, Letters from Limbo, will be published by CavanKerry Press in 2016. With Claudia Carlson, she co-edited the anthology The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales (Story Line, 2003). Her poems have been included in over thirty anthologies and textbooks, including Good Poems for Hard Times, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror 20th Annual Collection, Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website, and The Norton Introduction to Literature, 9th ed.Journals in which her work has appeared include Boston Review, Court Green, Harper's, Harvard Review, Manhattan Review, The Nation, New Letters, Ploughshares, and World Literature Today, among many others. Her poem "Afraid So" was made into a short film by filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt and has been screened at the Museum of Modern Art and numerous galleries and film festivals since 2006, garnering several awards. From 1992 to 2000, she was a co-editor of American Letters & Commentary. She has taught at Rutgers University and at The Frost Place, where she served as director for the Frost Place Advanced Seminar. She is currently an instructor at the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

Selected Publications:
Burning of the Three Fires (BOA Editions, 2010)
Curious Conduct (BOA Editions, 2004)  
Placebo Effects (W. W. Norton, 1997)
The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales, coedited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Claudia Carlson (Story Line, 2003)

How I Teach:

As a reader, writer, and teacher, I am keenly interested in how poets trace their artistic lineage, make use of influences, take part in and make arguments with the tradition. By locating ourselves in this continuum, we participate in moving the art forward. I want students to discover not only who their influences are but to come to love some work enough to want to embody it, to make it part of their own voice. In this way poetry remains a living organism that we all take part in nourishing, preserving, and enlarging. Another goal of my teaching is to provide the tools and resources to help students find within and without themselves what they need to continue to create on their own long after they graduate. Two essential aspects of the writing life that I encourage are attention and curiosity; if developed into habits, these can take a writer far. Two useful tools for this development are imitation and play. I have found imitation to be a valuable practice in learning any art (I’ve at least dabbled in nearly all of them). When we imitate attentively, we come to a richer understanding of a work’s structure—shape, sounds, syntax, image patterns, etc. Therefore a work of imitation may serve as an annotation if it is accompanied by clear, specific process notes. Once one learns to write by imitation, the page faced each day need never be blank, nor the way forward be blocked. The same can be said for learning to play. Poetry’s seriousness of purpose is balanced by the spirit of play that the art demands. Play can lead to surprise and discovery. I ask students to try a range of forms and processes in order to cultivate all aspects of their craft and imagination; a list of experiments and exercises is provided to support this practice. I want students to come to appreciate the remarkable elasticity and reach of language (I expect them to spend some time browsing the dictionary), the formal inventions available, the leaping energies and electric moments that can come, often magically, out of the labors of art.

With regard to the semester’s reading, I expect students to read widely, but more importantly, deeply. I value quality over quantity. I think one could spend many hours inside a poem by Dickinson or Keats more profitably than flying through a whole collection. A great poem will reward close and closer readings. Ideally a semester’s reading list should include at least one poet in translation, at least one pre-20th century poet, and some sort of poetry craft text or prose text related to artistic values or literary philosophy (eg, Lorca’s In Search of Duende). Students are also encouraged to read from a wide selection of works and genres relevant to their literary pursuits and interests, such as poet’s biographies, selections of letters, journals, essays, etc.

I prefer to exchange work by postal mail, and I mail back the packets with written comments promptly. I do mark on poems themselves. For one thing, this can avoid the awkwardness of having to count and write “in the second line of the fifth stanza…” For another, because I regard the poem on the page as a living document of nearly infinite choices, ie, a field of energies, I’ve found that I can best begin to respond to and interact with what I find there by staying in that field. Then I expand my commentary and remark on larger issues in my cover letters. I also like to schedule a talk on the phone at least once during the term to check in, clarify points, and air out any concerns. Email is used to keep in touch between packets and for practical notification, such as verifying packet receipt. I send clear guidelines for both packet exchanges and annotations to my mentees upon assignment. I regard annotations as a vital aspect of our ongoing dialogue and respond as I feel necessary to contribute to that. Some of my areas of interest include dramatic monologue, prose poems, ekphrasis, folk and fairy tale, poetic series/sequences, and collaborative work with other arts or with other writers. I am open to sincere experimentation, but I also expect poems to establish clarity at some level. I value wit, precision, tension, and mystery. My teaching is based on prodding, nudging, challenging, and cheering on; further, deeper, wilder is one of my mottos.

 Finally, I should state that I don’t come to poetry from an academic background;  large portions of my life have been spent working in other fields, including corporate, editorial, and even advertising. Although I completed an MFA program, I approach poetry as an ancient “hand-crafted” art that springs from our deepest roots, not ivory towers. The best model I have for teacher/student relations, from a student viewpoint, has come from my dance teachers. From them I have learned the importance of feeling your feet on the ground, the discipline of practice, and most of all that artists must first be human beings. Students treated with kindness, respect, and encouragement do the best work. Each student’s needs and strengths are particular, and each one’s paths and pursuits are unique. The wedded arts of teaching and learning are arts of intuition and imagination, and I aim to create a space where these can flourish, whether in a workshop or one-on-one.