Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Malachi Black

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Malachi Black, assistant professor of English and Creative Writing, is a new member of the College of Arts and Sciences English faculty and has hit the ground running. Black’s poetry will be featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Ploughshares.

Q: You’re from the east coast. What brought you to California and to USD?

I left New York City in the summer of 2007, and have since lived in Texas, Massachusetts, Utah, and Georgia, so California will be my fifth state in seven years. The thrillingly critical difference is that California, and USD, more specifically, constitutes a destination – in vital contrast to my so many recent stopovers. What brings me to California, of course, is USD: its uncommon and very real commitment to intellectual, pedagogical, and interpersonal community, integrity, and accomplishment. In terms of attractions, I can’t help but remark, too, on the richly affecting beauty of the university, both as aesthetic installation and as habitable academic space. When I first visited, in February, my sublime experience of the panoramic Garden of the Sea united me, I’ve imagined, with a great many onetime nomads for whom such a view was an invitation to stay. I’m excited to have arrived – to mark simultaneous ending and beginning – and to be unpacking, permanently, at long last.

Q: Your mentor is former USD professor, Jericho Brown. Did he influence your decision to join the USD community?

Jericho certainly influenced my decision to apply for the position. In fact, he spoke so glowingly of USD, his friends and colleagues here, his students, and his time here overall, that I almost doubted him – it all seemed like some unbelievable Xanadu. But that’s where USD itself entered in all its actuality, making my decision easy: it’s even better than he could convey.

Q: Poetry can often be misunderstood. What would you like to share with student and faculty about the importance of poetry? What drew you to poetry?

I eagerly distinguish between “poetry” and “verse.” Unlike the latter, poetry is a quality of language much more so than it is a genre or a form. It’s true that we often find the highest concentrations of poetry in versified texts, but poetry as such is a much vaster phenomenon, one so natural and so fundamental to our everyday encounters with language that we rarely register just how indispensable poetry is to us all. Every time we use language toward an end beyond the strictly informational – every time we pun, tell a joke, indulge in metaphor and simile, or choose linguistic style over denotative substance alone – we are engaging in an act of poetry. Thus poetry is constantly present not only in our conversations, but also in our newspapers, magazines, emails, and even our text messages (well, some of them, at least!). We live a huge portion of our lives in language; poetry is the richness of that language. Who could bear to live without it?

Q: You have poems featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Ploughshares -- congratulations! What is the process like for a poet in submitting work for publication?

Thank you! Truthfully, the process of submission is more straightforward than one might suspect: it’s as simple as sending an e-mail, mailing a letter, and or uploading a file. Thereafter, one waits – for somewhere between several days and several months – for an editorial decision. Rejection is a very real part of every writer’s life, whether she be Natasha Trethewey (current U.S. Poet Laureate) or a poet pursuing her first publication, so, while one certainly hopes for a 100% placement rate, one nevertheless anticipates and accepts that certain pieces won’t be contracted immediately. But a writer’s aim is higher, more important, and much more wonderfully impossible than publication: it is the perfection of a given text. And that is an aim unrelated to publishing. Publication is the afterlife of poetry.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing poetry?

From being alive and from being in love – with being alive, with being in love – and from being alive and in love with poetry. I think that just about covers it.

Q: When you’re not in the classroom or writing, what do you like to do with your time?

I think about being in the classroom and writing, of course! But in terms of further nourishments, I read, naturally, and pursue other means of enlivening the mind, through music, radio, movies, museums, and conversation. In recent years, I’ve also become increasingly aware of being a body, and I have taken to ways of invigorating the physical self through walking, running, playing tennis and whiffle ball, and some modest weight and yoga training. Thanks to the bounties of San Diego, I hope to add surfing to that list very soon.

– Melissa Wagoner Olesen

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