Classy Talk with Sierra Nelson | Fall 2014

Posted Wed, 9/10/2014 - 6:38pm by  |  Category:

SierraNelson_profileB&W_PhotobyRebeccaHoogsWhat is the title of your class? (please link your class from the website)

Crash Course Rainbow: One-Day Workshop on Color and Poetry

What’s one thing you hope your students will take away from the class?

I hope students leave this class not only with a fresh batch of new poems but also with refreshed eyes for the world and the poetry around them. Colors are our invitation to wake up to our own aliveness.

What sorts of writers will you be reading/assigning in class? Why?

Taking inspiration from Maggie Nelson’s Bluets—“…my love for blue has never felt to me like maturing, or a refinement, or a settling…one can maintain a chromophilic recklessness well into adulthood”—we’ll develop our own chromophilic recklessness in our writing.

We’ll look at an eclectic array of poets and how they move in colors, such as Emily Dickinson (“A lane of Yellow led the eye …”), Pablo Neruda (“Who shouted with glee / when the color blue was born?”), Gertrude Stein (“A dark grey, a very dark grey… is so monstrous because there is no red in it. …”), Barbara Guest (“Nine rows of color. / The future writ in white spaces…”), Ronald Johnson (“neither Bosch’s / oranges, /nor swamp-fire /in a tree…”), Koi Nagata (“To a pink/ The time of the tiger / Comes flying”), e. e. cummings (“All in green went my love riding /on a great horse of gold/ into the silver dawn….”).

And of course we’ll look at colors themselves as texts, and touch upon some scientific and philosophical color theories. It’s going to be fun!

BONUS: Visual artist Loren Erdrich, my frequent collaborator, will make a guest appearance and lead us in a writing-and-art exercise. (More below on our latest collaborative project: “I Change.”)

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?





Are any of your works online and available to the public?

A smorgasbord of poems:

And an essay:

What’s your teaching philosophy?

I believe deeply in learning by doing: i.e. writing a ton (aka the generative approach). Feedback and revision are valuable processes, too, when the time is right—but often we get stuck in a fearful mode that keeps us from writing at all or trying anything new. My classes offer unusual writing prompts and hands-on approaches that emphasize experimentation and play (for, as Robert Frost puts it, “the work is play for moral stakes”). Even when it’s difficult, the writing process should feel invigorating. My classes strive to increase joy, momentum, and camaraderie, no matter your starting point.

What advice do you have about getting into the habit of writing regularly?

Writing begets writing, and the more you pay attention, the more comes to your attention. So look around, use your senses, write the details. You don’t have to know what these images mean or portend: they’ll tell you later. You’re just the sensory magnet, the electric register, the dutiful collector. It’s important, and it’s not about you. Carry a notebook at all times.

What are you working on right now? Where did the idea come from?

I’m working on a new series of poems, “I Change,” inspired by the ancient Chinese divination method the I Ching (a.k.a. The Book of Changes) and its eight key elements of earth, sky, water, fire, mountain, wind, lake, and thunder. I began experimenting with divination as poetic form and interactive invitation in my project Runasafn / Rune Library, inspired by Nordic runes during an artist residency in Iceland. The “I Change” poetry project builds on this same idea: audience members can throw coins (a traditional I Ching divination method) to select a specific poem, allowing each reader to personally intersect with a text in their own way.

Best of all, artist Loren Erdrich is collaborating with me again for this project, making a new series of drawings and objects also inspired by the I Ching elements and my poems and fragments as they emerge. We’re very excited to debut the new poems and artwork at Hugo House in an interactive performance on Tuesday Dec. 9, 7 p.m., along with some kick-ass guest readers sharing their own work. Loren’s artwork will also be up in the Hugo House gallery through December.

What’s your favorite word in the English vocabulary?

hullabaloo: loud confused noise, esp of protest; commotion

Word Origin: C18: perhaps from interjection hallo + Scottish baloo lullaby

Let’s talk writing inspiration—what’s the No. 1 thing that drives you to write?

Whatever is happening, my life is better when I am writing.