To give prospective and current students some insight into the Poetry MFA program, I’ll be talking with members of the faculty. We kicked things off with Tony Trigilio, and next up is CM Burroughs, Associate Professor.
How did you discover poetry?
Through reading. I was familiar with prose first (Dickens’ Great Expectations was my favorite novel,) and I found poetry by way of my developing appetite for prose. I wasn’t reading poetry as I began to write it; that came later. I only knew that the images that I wanted to make required a form that was not prose. I knew to call what I was making poetry, but it wasn’t until junior high school that I began reading the form. I recall having to memorize Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”—the tiniest of poems, but it was special to me when I was 13. The reading of poetry became prominent in my schooling around that age, and the rest, well, became quite the loyal affair.
What brought you to Columbia; what do you think sets us apart?
The opportunity to teach at an arts college brought me to Columbia. I am enamored by the construction of a space that cultivates knowledge, practice and expertise above all, and it’s a brilliant exchange that my career as a writer sustains my students’ education in the field. The environment of Columbia is also unique—I don’t expect the standards when it comes to our student body—I expect pride in the extraordinary, experimental expression.
What is your favorite part about living and working in Chicago?
The water. I am ever falling in love with Lake Michigan. There is also the odd day when the sound of the El overhead is romantic.
What are you reading right now?
I am very interested in poet’s first books. I’ve read texts by authors including Molly McCully Brown, Safiya Sinclair, Aracelis Girmay, Solmaz Sharif…
Are there writers or collections you find yourself regularly returning to? What brings you back to them?
I only return to texts sporadically. When I was a child, my mother (an educator) would not let me read a book more than once so that I could always learn anew. I didn’t appreciate it then (pre-teen tantrums), but I find the practice of rigorous consumption itching at me lately—that sensibility urges that I move to reading the next book rather than re-reading the last.
What advice do you have for young poets?
Read as much as you can and as often as you can! Never compare your successes to others’ successes, and write the work that feels urgent for you. Also, take in a variety of art forms—feed your intellect and tastes.
You can read select poems from CM Burroughs at Woodland Pattern.