Mixed Media

Poetry in Motion

UB celebrates 25 years of literary innovation, and looks ahead to the next quarter-century

Robert Creeley (left) was a beloved teacher, mentor and colleague to many at UB. Photo: The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries

By Michael Flatt and Lauren Newkirk Maynard

“The Poetics Program was a way of formalizing what was already an extremely active and innovative writing scene at UB.”
Cristanne Miller, chair, Department of English

Writing, for the most part, is seen as a solitary pursuit. So it was remarkable when nearly 250 poets, graduate students, professors and alumni swept onto campus April 9-10, as the community built by UB’s legendary Poetics Program came together for a conference to celebrate its silver anniversary.

The Poetics Program was founded in 1991 by UB faculty Robert Creeley, Susan Howe, Dennis Tedlock, Charles Bernstein and Raymond Federman—renowned poets all. Together, they composed a manifesto of sorts that gave voice to “an extraordinary concentration of interest in poetics that makes UB unique among literature departments in North America.” From this document came the program’s guiding principle: that literary artists—not strictly academics—should teach not only the art of writing, but also the theories behind it.

“The Poetics Program was a way of formalizing what was already an extremely active and innovative writing scene at UB,” says Cristanne Miller, chair of the English department. Of the founders, she adds, “This group wanted an interdisciplinary approach to literary, cultural and textual studies that enabled them to focus collectively on creative and critical activity within the process of learning, thinking and writing.”

Housed within the English department, the Poetics Program offers undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in such subjects as the poetics of translation, the history of the book and ethnopoetics, which considers poetry within the context of ethnic and regional linguistic questions. A vibrant academic and social calendar grew around the program, including lectures, readings and access to avant-garde poets, writers and faculty—among them Lyn Hejinian, Ed Dorn and M. NourbeSe Philip.

Since its early days, the program also has supported an impressive number of student and faculty publications, from poetry magazines and chapbooks to small presses, which can be found along with the one-of-a-kind manuscripts in UB’s Poetry Collection. It also helped create the Electronic Poetry Center, a vast digital repository of information on postwar and contemporary American poetry.

The Poetics Program is a groundbreaking example of interdisciplinary study at UB. Most important, says Miller, it plays a major role in shaping contemporary poetry’s future. Indeed, this was the core issue at the conference. Through small-group seminars and panel discussions mixed with public poetry readings, the event drew thinkers and writers from around the world who make poetry, study it, and represent its current and future audiences.

Words for Bob

Nathaniel Mackey.

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey, one of the country’s most accomplished living writers, gave the inaugural “Robert Creeley Lecture and Celebration of Poetry” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on April 8. Established by the English department and endowed by an anonymous $25,000 donation, the annual lecture honors Robert “Bob” Creeley (1926-2005), a former SUNY Distinguished Professor and author of more than 60 books of poetry and criticism