Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Jeanne Marie BeaumontJeanne Marie Beaumont grew up in the Philadelphia area and moved to New York City in 1983. She holds an MFA in Writing from Columbia University. Her first book, Placebo Effects, was selected by William Matthews as a winner in the National Poetry Series and published by W.W. Norton in 1997. In 2004, her second collection of poems, Curious Conduct, was published by BOA Editions, Ltd. Burning of the Three Fires is forthcoming from BOA Editions in fall of 2010. With Claudia Carlson, she co-edited the anthology The Poets’ Grimm: Twentieth Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales (Story Line Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in more than two dozen anthologies and textbooks, including Good Poems for Hard Times, Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website, The Norton Introduction to Literature, 9th ed., The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Don't Leave Hungry: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review, When She Named Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American WomenJournals in which her work has appeared include Boston Review, Colorado Review, Conduit, Court Green, Double Take, Harper’s, Manhattan Review, The Nation, New American Writing, Poetry, Volt, Witness, and World Literature Today, among many others. Her poem “Afraid So” was made into a short film by award-winning filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt: it has been screened at numerous international film festivals and on IFC. From 1992 to 2000, she was co-editor of the literary magazine American Letters & Commentary. She has taught at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, and at The Frost Place, where she is director for the Frost Place Advanced Seminar. She also teaches 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 influence, take part in and make arguments with the tradition, and by locating themselves in this continuum, participate in moving the art forward. This is the ground we stand on, the grounding. 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 teaching is to provide the tools and resources to help students find within and without themselves what they need to continue to create. Two essential aspects of the writing life that I try to 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 well thought through imitation may serve as an annotation if it is accompanied by some 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. I value and urge play as an activity that can lead to surprise and discovery. I ask students to try a range of forms and processes in order to develop all aspects of their craft and imagination. I have lists of experiments and exercises for students to try as part of their daily practice. I want students to come to appreciate the remarkable elasticity and reach of language (I expect them to spend some time roaming about 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 practical matters, I expect students to read widely, but more importantly, deeply. I value quality over quantity. I think one could spend many hours over a poem by Dickinson or Keats more profitably than flying through a whole collection. A great poem, one whose parts are all up and running, will reward close and closer readings. Many times, we need to slow down. That said, ideally a semester’s reading would include a poet in translation (or at least non-USA), a pre-20th century poet, and some sort of poetry craft text or prose text related to artistic values or literary philosophy (eg, Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millenium). These along with readings of more modern verse would provide lots of places to work and move from.

I prefer to exchange work by postal mail, and I will mail back 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, I regard the poem on the page as a living record of nearly infinite choices and thus a field of energies, and as a reader I’ve found that I can best begin to respond to and interact with what I find there by staying in or on that field. Then I will expand my commentary and remark on larger issues in my cover letter. It is hard for me to think about critiquing poems without an aural/oral component. So, I’d also like to schedule a talk on the phone, at least once during the term. This can help to clarify points and air out any concerns and allow two voices to meet off the page (every change in medium changes the discourse). Since the sound of poetry is important, I might ask students to read poems aloud on the phone. I will regard annotations as an aspect of our ongoing dialogue and respond as I feel necessary to contribute to that. I assume students will read and comment on work as writers, always alert to how a work is made, and not just what it means. Some of my areas of interest include dramatic monologue, prose poems, ekphrasis, folk and fairy tale, 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 like wit, precision, tension, and mystery. I confess the word “epic” is one likely to have me edging away, but I can be persuaded by any work of excellence. A lot of my teaching is based on prodding, nudging, challenging and cheering on; further, deeper, wilder is one of my mottos.

Finally, let me admit that I am not an academic, and large portions of my life have been spent working in other fields, including corporate, editorial, and even advertising. Although I completed an MFA program, it was not a mentor-model program, so the best model I have for teacher/student relations, from a student viewpoint, has been with my 82-year-old dance teacher. From him I have learned the importance of finding your ground, the clarity that comes from knowing where you are going, the discipline of style, and most of all that artists must first be human beings, and that students treated with kindness, respect, 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 strive to create a space where these can flourish, whether in a workshop or one-on-one.