Classy Talk with Sierra Nelson: Spring 2014

Posted Fri, 3/21/2014 - 4:23pm by  |  Category:

sierra-nelsonWhat is the title of your class? 

Creatures of the Sea: Experiments in Poetry & Marine Biology (starting 5/7, Wednesdays 7:10-9:10 p.m.)

People should take this class if… 

If you are a poet who loves marine biology like me, or a scientist who wants a chance to explore more creative writing, or a writer of any kind simply looking for some fresh inspiration, sea-based or otherwise, you should join this class! In this generative class we’ll look at both poetry and science to inspire us, and experiment with a range of eclectic writing prompts to create a portfolio of at least five new pieces. (Prompts are slanted towards poetry but open to prose—all writers welcome.)  Some questions I’ve been thinking about lately that we’ll explore in this class: What sensory approaches can we learn from an octopus, a mantis shrimp, or a whale, expanding our imagery? What makes words school like fish? What would happen if a poem grew one gigantic claw?

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

Sure! Here are some ways to find me:




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

A sampler plate of poems:

And an essay:

What’s your teaching philosophy?

For writing classes, I love teaching generative classes where the focus is on learning from doing. In a generative class (rather than a critiquing workshop model), we create new work and try new experiments—learning from the strengths we discover in our writing and process along the way, learning from what feels new or weird to us, gaining inspiration from a variety of sources, and learning from the variety of approaches we see in our peers’ work. It’s an opportunity to be exposed to new tools and possibilities in our work and a way to get out of our own writing ruts. The generative part is also fun and equally valuable to beginning and well-seasoned writers.

I definitely believe in editing too; that can be a joyful and creative act in itself. (And the portfolio feedback and optional conference at the end of the class is a chance to switch to revision mode.) But for myself as an artist, if I jump too quickly into an editor’s frame-of-mind, it can sometimes stop me from writing at all, or stop me from risking failure or trying something new. There is always room to grow (put down more roots, or send out a new strange shoot), and my classes are designed to help encourage that growth.

In my reading classes, I take a similar creative approach: we learn through getting our hands dirty in the writing process itself.

If you could have any famous actor read one of your pieces to you, who would it be and why?

Harpo Marx!

What are you currently working on?

I received a Seattle CityArtist grant to work on a new series of poems this year inspired in part by the geography of Washington and the structure of the Chinese divination system the I Ching. So outside of the sea-inspired writing, I’m slowly working on that project.

What’s your favorite “rule” of writing to break in your own writing?

I believe strongly in show don’t tell—that the image reaches us in our physical bodies, affects our limbic systems, in a way that abstract language doesn’t. We know this intuitively and in practice — if all a poem does is tell you what to think or feel, it doesn’t hit you the same way it does when an image embodies an idea, letting the reader experience it directly and complexly. But an occasional tell—a large gesture, a bold abstract statement—can really pack a punch in the right place!

What are you reading now? If you could pair it with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), what would you choose?

I’m mostly revisiting Moby-Dick at the moment (and also enjoying Matt Kish’s Moby Dick in Pictures: a drawing for every page in Melville’s original). For a beverage, with a little research I discovered that the Whiskey Smash was one of America’s most popular cocktails in the 1850s. As Moby-Dick came out in 1851, I imagine Melville might have downed a few of these to drown out the unpopularity and bad reviews of his novel in his day. Now that Melville’s star has risen, and the Whiskey Smash is all but forgotten, I’d like to revive this little cocktail and raise a glass to Melville’s whale.  (Whiskey Smash: Muddle lemon and sprigs of spearmint, mix with simple syrup and bourbon whiskey.)