Course: Creative Writing/Poetry
Instructor: Jericho Brown

UP WITH PEOPLE: It’s a warm spring afternoon. Once the students have settled into a comfortable circle, the instructor sighs, “I’m so happy. It’s such a wonderful life we live.” It seems like everyone in the room wants to be here, which isn’t always the case in poetry classes.

ARE YOU NOBODY TOO? The discussion ranges from a critique of L.A.-based performance poet Douglas Kearney to whether Emily Dickinson should ever have been born. One presentation is prefaced by a memorized recitation of Wallace Steven’s “Anecdote of the Jar.” Although the student forgets the ending, he makes a graceful, rhyming save: “It took dominion everywhere / And I think I’ll stop there.”

POETS KNOW IT: The professor takes note of two students who’ve started a side conversation while another holds the baton: “Please forgive them. They don’t mean to be disrespectful to you, because they love you. Also, they don’t want me to throw them out the window.”

EVERY DAY HE WRITES THE BOOK: Asked why one repeats experiences — watching TV reruns or re-reading books — one student confesses he returns to Catcher in the Rye because “every time I read it, I’m older.” Brown is delighted: “You should say that in a poem! You better hurry up and use that or I will … and then I’ll dedicate the poem to you.”

IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS AFTER ALL: A student makes passing reference to a particular volume that the professor is unfamiliar with. Visibly shaken, Brown confesses, “There’s a book I don’t know about, and that makes me nervous!”

ALL WORK, NO PLAY: A boy flirtatiously writes in a pretty girl’s notebook. Brown tells a student, “I meant to scare you! It makes things better!” Don’t let the laughter fool you: These pupils are deadly serious about the material. Critiquing and cultivating each other’s poetry is no joke.

Stefanie Wray