Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Timothy Seibles

Tim SeiblesTimothy Seibles  is an Assistant Professor of English at Old Dominion University. Tim is the author of five books of poetry: Body Moves, Hurdy-Gurdy, Kerosene, Ten Miles an Hour, and Hammerlock. An NEA Fellow in 1990, he recently received the Open Voice Award from the National Writers Voice Project. Tim was born in Philadelphia in 1955. He left there in 1973 to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he earned a BA in English in 1977. He remained in Dallas to teach high school English for ten years. In 1988, Tim began his M.F.A. work at Vermont College, receiving his degree in 1990. In 1991, he won a writing fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. For two years after that, Tim was the Writing Coordinator of the Work Center. Before beginning to teach at Old Dominion, he spent a year living and writing in Cambridge. Recently his work has been featured in Red Brick Review, New Letters, Dark Eros, Ploughshares, New England Review, The Artful Dodge, and in E. Ethelbert Miller's anthology In Search of Color Everywhere.

Selected Publications: 

 

Buffalo Head Solos (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2004)

Hammerlock (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1999)

How I Teach:

My passion for teaching is rooted in my love for poetry.  I believe in the transformative power of poems—writing and reading them.  As a young, wannabe-poet, I was lucky enough to find myself under the direction of fiery and compassionate writers who showed me the expressive power of language in ways I’d never considered.

Like most people who find themselves drawn to writing, I was hungry for a way to clarify my own sense of things.  What I’d been told about the world seemed terribly deficient, and writing struck me as a way to fill in the blanks, to insist upon a body of meaning and emotion that I knew in my own head but did not find articulated in the world around me.

My primary goal as a mentor is to set in motion and sustain a level of inquiry that allows a student to discover what words can do and, more precisely, what s/he needs words to do.  I am not interested in creating disciples.  Ideally, I hope to be someone who opens the door to many possibilities in poetry, so that a developing writer can make choices that reflect his/her own yearnings and fascinations.  This is the gift I was given by my teachers, and it’s what I hope to pass along to the students I encounter.

I love all kinds of poems—narrative and lyrical, formal and free verse, raging and pastoral—and I believe I can be of use to students who find themselves drawn to all of these and whatever lies between and beyond them.  If someone is doing work that is truly experimental I am completely willing to assist them in shaping a new poetry.  Such work can only help to expand my own grasp of words, perhaps allowing me to shed some of the dead skin of my own conventions.

During the first and second semesters—in addition to working with students on their own poems—I put a good bit of emphasis on annotative work.  I feel strongly that deep-reading with a focus on the what and how of good poetry can really sharpen a student’s sense of his/her own efforts.  In concert with this, I assign imitations on a regular basis.  Imitating an accomplished style is a straight-forward way to broaden the spectrum of one’s own sense of strategy and voice.  Of course, such work is rarely a complete success.  It’s very difficult to internalize another writer’s sensibility within a few weeks, but the stretching that’s required in trying is the point.

The “critical essay” semester and the final “creative thesis” semesters are different from the first two in that they usually require more direct communication.  Though e-mail and written suggestions on hardcopy may be useful, I believe that conversing by phone is a necessary complement to other kinds of engagement.   At this stage of the program, I try to foster self-confidence and sense of autonomy because these are the last two steps before the student enters the much larger world of writing and, in some cases, teaching.  

Finally, for me, teaching is a way to help others satisfy the thirst for more particularized and nuanced meanings.  If mainstream culture conspires against us by promoting the idea that its imperatives are the only essential ones, then my task, as a teacher, is to challenge that notion while insisting upon the value of the student’s sensibility.  This means that I have to create a climate in which all kinds of risks are permitted—outrageous heresies and daring conformities—so that, as the student begins to contemplate a life in words, s/he has a clear sense of the infinities that language can entertain.