Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Charles Martin

CHARLES MARTIN’s most recent book of poems, Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems, was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. His verse translation of the Metamorphoses of Ovid received the Harold Morton Landon Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2004. In 2005, he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His other books of poems include Steal The Bacon and What The Darkness Proposes, and a translation, The Poems of Catullus, all published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Other works include Catullus, a critical introduction to the Latin poet, published in Yale University Press’s Hermes Series. He is the recipient of a Bess Hokin Award from Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He served as Poet in Residence at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York from 2005 to 2009.

His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, The Threepenny Review, and in many other magazines and anthologies. He has taught at The Johns Hopkins University, Syracuse University, the Sewanee Writers Conference, the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and the Unterberg Center of the 92nd Street YMHA. He is currently on the faculties of the Stonecoast MFA Program and the School of Letters of The University of the South.

His next book of poems, Signs & Wonders, will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2011. His current projects include a collaborative translation with Gavin Flood (Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies) of the Bhagavad Gita, to be published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 2012.

Selected Publications:
Metamorphoses (W.W. Norton and Co. 2003)
What The Darkness Proposes (Johns Hopkins University Press) 


Teaching Philosophy:
As a teacher of poetry, I have always tried to focus on what I think can be taught, the techniques of poetry as seen in the close reading of poems, those of my students and those of my teachers alike. The close reading of poems, the examination of syntax in relation to prosody, is an instructive delight. So is the examination of figures of speech and patterns of sound.  
  
I hold with those who say that a poem exists so that we can talk about it. If it is a good poem, it will want us to talk about it, and it will enjoy our discussion. If it is not a good poem, it may not want to be discussed much at all; it may only want praise, which will do it no good. A good poem is one that improves our ability to talk about it and other poems.  
 
I believe that all poetry has form, whether fixed or free. My abiding interest has been the present day use of measured verse, and I write in measure only because I continue to find it more interesting to work with and explore than free verse. I am happy to encourage students who want to work in fixed forms but nobody should feel pressured to do so. I enjoy reading free verse, and I don't think that writing in measure makes one a better person. I do it for the pleasure of it. Mona Van Duyn once said that the difference between writing in free verse and writing in meter was that when she was writing in free verse her husband got his dinner on time and when she was writing in meter he had to wait until she finished the poem. 
 
In recent years, the question of what we mean by the word voice has come to interest me more and more. What I think now is that it is an error to assume that each poet is his or her own voice (as in "One of the most interesting voices in contemporary American poetry..."). I find it more interesting to think that poets develop voices which alter with their occasions. That development, in, say, a poet like Donald Justice, interests me greatly, and I like to show this development to my students, since I think it is useful to them to see it.  
  
I am myself fond of exercises, and I don't believe in making a distinction between exercise and poem. I think that any exercise can turn into a poem (oh, all right, "a real poem") and any poem involves exercise not unlike the kind one gets when lifting weights. I believe that exercises should be optional since otherwise the contrarians in the group will miss out on them. Exercises may be formal, or they may be exercises in voice, or they may be a combination of the two.  
  
As a teacher, I try to follow the commandment that goes, "Thou shalt teach the ones in front of you and not any others." I try to determine what the student intends by the poem and what the poem intends, and I try to comment helpfully on the mesh between these two.  
  
I have not taught in a brief residency program before, but my preference is for keeping in touch with people by snail-mail, so work will be received in manila envelopes and returned the same way. I will line-edit, and I will make suggestions about the work and about the reading that should nourish it, whether it's contemporary or ancient, in English or another language, poetry or prose.