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Thursday Afternoon Poetry Reading

Dan Poppick. Courtesy of Thermos
What I love about our English department is that we enjoy having events throughout the semester to show what our peers and professors are doing. Last Thursday was one of those events.

For the longest time, our resident poet was Ann Struthers. She retired and our new poetry professor, Dan Poppick, has been having a great time on campus so far. I actually interviewed him for my journalism class. He has a fascinating story and he is also an excellent poet. I'm telling you all this because Dan gave a poetry reading on Thursday.

He read to a pretty full house. Instead of standing behind a podium, he stood in the middle and used gestures and movement to enhance his reading. At first, he was a little nervous but as he kept reading, he became quite comfortable.

It was nice Thursday afternoon study break and it was cool to hear some of his own work.

Since I've been doing so much writing this semester, I'll also include the profile I wrote for my journalism class. Hopefully that gives you a little more insight into Dan!

Dan Poppick had not planned on being a poet. He was a fiction writer as an undergraduate but often had difficulties writing short stories. In his last semester as an undergraduate at Kenyon College, Poppick took a poetry class on a whim.

It was a class that changed his life.

The class was taught by G.C. Waldrep who was a visiting professor. While in the class Poppick got over his writer’s block. “I could write again,” Poppick said. “Writing just became another thing.”   

From there, Poppick decided to escape, going to a beautiful place where he knew no one so he could just write. This mysterious place was Missoula, Montana. Poppick secured a crappy job and spent six months there. Although he faced a dreary winter, Poppick got a lot out of the adventure. “I did write,” said Poppick. “It was a very tense experience, and I came out of it a little shaken. But I got through it and it proved to me that I could make a place for writing.” 

It was this experience that helped Poppick realize he could become a poetry professor. “It’s the only job that feels like a worthy cause,” he said. 

Poppick was hired this past year as an adjunct assistant professor of English at Coe College with his emphasis being poetry. He gives off the stereotypical “poet” vibe. Embracing plaid, Poppick knows how to dress well, complimented with a well-trimmed beard. He is easy-going, speaking quietly yet speaking with a passion for poetry and teaching. Within his first month on campus, Poppick has become part of Coe’s academic culture. 

He is teaching a poetry workshop along with a topics in creative writing class. A current student said he is an engaging professor and brings unique material to read and discuss. They also said he keeps the class up to date with literary events happening in the area, encouraging his students to take advantage of these opportunities. 

A typical class with Poppick consists of one-third talking about the craft of poetry and two-thirds workshopping the student’s poems. The class starts with a conversation assigned poems. Poppick’s selections are usually by post-war poets written in the 19th and 20th century. 

Throughout the semester Poppick will adapt the assigned poems based on his students as he gets to know them. This creates a freestyle atmosphere which is exactly what Poppick wants. He has a specific emotion he wants his students to have when reading the assigned poems. “I want to move away from a poem that leaves somebody feeling warm and fuzzy,” Poppick said. “I want poetry to be a striking experience.” 

After an adequate discussion, Poppick moves into the workshop portion of the class. Two students are workshopped at a time. When asked why Poppick explained, “I like poetry that can be in a conversation.” By having two students with different styles of writing workshopped at the same time, the discussion can bring out the quirks and qualities of each set of poems.  

Poppick is enjoying his job and working with Coe students. “I’ve been most impressed that Coe students seem to be game for just about anything,” he said. “Even when my students are resistant to a poem, they are willing to talk about why they are resistant.” 

Being the only poetry professor on campus is not always easy -- Coe lacks aspiring poets. “I would love if there would be a vibrant poetry community that was open to heated arguments,” Poppick said. “That’s where the magical side of learning happens. When you are arguing about something at three in the morning.”   

It is clear Poppick wants to make a difference. When asked about what he would like to accomplish in his first year, Poppick said, “If I can be here for a year and know that people are talking about poetry after the class ends, then I know I will have done my job.”