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Carol Potter, MFA

Antioch University Los Angeles

Carol Potter (poetry) received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1982, and has taught at Indiana University, University of Redlands, UCLA Extension Writers’ program, Antioch University, Ohio State University, Champlain College, and at community colleges in California and in Massachusetts.

Potter’s most recent book of poems, Some Slow Bees, won the 2014 Field Poetry Prize from Oberlin College Press. Of Some Slow Bees, Betsy Sholl writes: “With what verve and formal acuity Carol Potter puts us right in the welter of the world. Her tales in Some Slow Bees are told with such speed everything unnecessary falls away and what’s left is pure honey—with the sting of revelation. The language is exuberant and exacting at once, like a scalpel sprouting feathers. Desirous and wary of love, skeptical of “the grail that any one story grows to be,” these are poems of self-reckoning, and Potter makes a fine music for us all out of what we “didn’t do…couldn’t keep…walked away from.” “Don’t sit down just because you’re invited,” one poem cautions. But Reader, do—do sit down and feast on these fine, wry and wonderful poems.”

Potter’s fourth book, Otherwise Obedient (Red Hen Press, 2007), was a finalist in the Lambda LGBT awards for 2007, and her third book of poems, Short History of Pets won the 1999 Cleveland State Poetry Center Award, and the Balcones Award.  Two previous books were published by Alice James Books, Upside Down in The Dark (I995) and Before We Were Born (1990).

Publications include poems in The Massachusetts Review, The New England Review, Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, The Los Angeles Review, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Poet Lore, Sinister Wisdom, The Kenyon Review, and many other journals.

Potter’s work has also appeared in numerous anthologies including The Pushcart Prize XXVI: Best of the Small Presses, December 2001, and most recently in The Road Taken, an anthology of contemporary Vermont poets.

Awards besides the Field Poetry Prize, the Cleveland State Poetry Center Award, and a Pushcart Prize in 2001 include The 2015 Ekphrasis Poetry Award, The 2015 Northampton Arts Biennial Poetry Contest, The New Letters Award for Poetry in 1990, the Tom McAfee Discovery Award from The Missouri Review, and three Massachusetts Council of the Arts Awards, and the 2004 dA Center for the Arts Poetry Award. Potter was also the writer in residence at the Thurber House in April of 2003. She has had residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Millay Colony for the Arts, Cummington Community of the Arts, Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain, Villa Montalvo, and Centrum.

Educational History

MFA in Poetry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
BA in English/Journalism, certificate in Women’s Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Teaching Statement

As a teacher, I first look for what the student does best; locate the strength in the poem, the heart and lungs and legs of the poem, and if it seems hobbled, I will make suggestions about possible ways in which to free it. We will work towards mastering craft, and then going beyond it–accessing as Ed Hirsch calls it “duende,” the raw, the ragged. Craft must be learned, but without heart, soul, and shadow all is lost. I believe there is an absolute bottom line, a real difference between mediocre and superb, good and bad. Either the cup holds water, or it doesn’t. Either the bicycle has wheels, or it hasn’t. Ergo, craft has to be learned, but it is not all. There are many wonderful, skilled poets in the world, yet far too many banal poems. Beautiful packages, but nothing inside them. My goal is to help students find the best way to craft the poem, but even more, to access the raw material, to allow the wild in the poem, to make surprises, but not with gimmicks. Hence, no gimmicks, many surprises. How to find them? I encourage associative building of the poems; to allow the unexpected to happen. Some workshop exercises are possibly in store, depending on student inclinations, depending on how much and where it seems necessary to shake the collective’s sensibilities. I will also suggest readings of specific poets, and journals that will offer other ways to approach the material. How to do this? Planned surprises, found poems, exercises in workshop to see just what the first impulse might be for each student. Sometimes we need to be rocketed out of our own habits, and try new approaches.

I encourage flexibility, new vision for the poem when necessary, and re-vision, revision. Sometimes it’s important to come back to the poem from another direction, in another person, another day. Put the poem away. Sometimes leave the material for another time. I encourage students to disown their own poems when revising. We have to be able to see the work with a cool, level eye and to edit our own work as if we were strangers to it. One must let go of what one meant to say, and allow the poem to take its own life. We do this in dreams. One image hooks onto another. It is the truth of these linkages that persuades me. I encourage students to trust this. To trust their own footsteps; and let the poem happen. I believe there are only a few stories: love, loss, death, rebirth, and the stories have been told. Hence it is not the story, but how it is told, sung, spun. The sound of the poem is of utmost importance. We need the music of words, the delight of sound. I like poems that spring, that are wound tight, that click one line into the next with the surety of a bike derailleur in good tune. I expect the poem to lift my scalp, to make me feel, as Dickinson said, as if the top of my head were lifted. I want to be riveted, to be scared, happy, to feel something, and most of all to be in the presence of the mystery at the heart of the poem. No mystery. No magic. No poem. I want the poems to want to be written, to need to be written, and that the poem be allowed to take on its own life. I am not in favor of agendas, Anybody’s Rules of Order, or any sort of preconceived notion about where the poem ought to go.

I encourage as Keats says, “negative capability.” The space between the words, the blank on the canvas, the red inside the red. I want the poem to speak to me, but not lecture. I want the poem to instruct me, but not in anything I can use. I want the poem to need to be written, and to have its own need. Each person comes with his or her own sensibilities, and each poem bears the thumb print of the individual. I respect the individual style, inclination, drive of each poet. My own inclinations are toward conciseness, compression, humor, oddity, sharpness, and as David Walker says, “daffy logic” and “the spirit of attentiveness to the world’s variety”—however that is achieved. I am open to any form, any style. I ask my students to be prepared to take chances, to ask questions, to be baffled, to get stuck, and to enjoy whatever problems arise as they are often the stuff of the next great work.

Affiliate Faculty,

MFA in Creative Writing Program


Courses Taught

Women & Lit
GLBT Literature
Multi-genre Creative Writing
Intro to Literature

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