On Collections, Influence, and Attention
Last night over the phone a longtime friend and I traded stories about what we collected in childhood. As we talked our lists grew unwieldy and strange—film canisters, laundry lint, dried flowers, smooth river stones, letters. I remember well the sense of wonder and excitement in finding something small and familiar, and placing it in a container full of the same. My friend and I spent a great deal of time trying to recall our motivations for this young work, remembering the quiet thrill of our first fascinations—our first attempts to discern what we could or should keep hold of, and what we could not.
Before starting CSU’s MFA program, I taught science at an outdoor education school in southern Colorado. During my time living and working on site, I taught freshwater biology, fire and forest ecology, and aerodynamics to fifth and sixth grade students. The majority of classes took place outdoors, so my students and I spent a great deal of time exploring the one-hundred-acre canyon, listening, looking, and identifying all we could. Among other things I loved about this job was how often and rigorously it required my care and attention to the people and environment around me. Too, this work helped me more deeply consider the role of my humanness in this big place—how to tread lightly, release the things I wished to keep, decide what was mine to collect and what was not. Throughout my time in Stone Canyon, I learned the names and shapes of stonefly larvae, the species of flora comprising the underbrush, the name for the trees clustered on the upper hill. Watching students lean into their curiosity reminded me to do the same—to learn all the names I could and remember them.
While studying at CSU, all of my classes have grown my awareness of influence, attention, and procedure in my writing life. This year has been one of the greatest of my life, not least because I get to do what I love most (writing and reading poems) alongside a community I deeply admire and care for. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how influence, attention, and procedure translate from my movements in and of the world onto the page. I’ve been trying to attend to the kinds of curiosities and wonder I felt in my own childhood and in teaching, to see how these serve as influence inside the world of a poem. It’s been a trip recalling what small and precious things first captivated my attention, and have continued to preoccupy my mind and poems ever since. I am grateful for the space and time this program allows me to do this kind of exploring, and how much I’ve been prompted of late to think back on my earliest and most sustaining curiosities.