Is There a Geneseo School of Poetry?

This is a topic that has come up a few times in the Gandy Dancer class, both this semester and last. I’ve talked a little with Lucia about this, and we both seem to agree: Geneseo has a definite school or style of poetry. Complex, multidimensional lines; intricate details and images; an aversion to the abstract and vague—these are all things I tend to see in the poems being produced in our workshop and by other Geneseo students that write poetry.

Which kind of makes selecting poetry for GD difficult. In the past, pretty much all of our poetry readers have been involved in the upper-level poetry workshops at Geneseo and wrote/read poetry similar to the type being taught/written here. And when you’re receiving poems from across the state, in all different types of form and style and content, you tend to pick the poems you think are the best: which, it often seems like, are the poems similar in style to the ones you’re used to seeing and writing.

Not the greatest thing when you’re trying to put together a lit mag featuring writing from across the state. Only publishing Geneseo poets in a SUNY-wide lit mag doesn’t exactly show the breadth and diversity of talent within the SUNY system. But, then again, you don’t exactly want to be publishing poems you think are sub-par to the rest of the selection pool just to throw another SUNY school or two into the mix.

I mean, look at some of the poems we have in our class Reader. Tamarin Norwood’s “Anyway I ran at the tree again” and William Carlos Williams’ “XXII” are both beautiful in their simplicity and the restraint—things I don’t really see a lot in our workshop or from other poets I know here. But, although the Williams and Norwood poems don’t subscribe to the Geneseo school of poetry, they’re obviously beautiful and well-crafted enough to have been published and discussed in an upper-level poetry class.

So, as Geneseo students, are we biased when it comes to poetry? I know, for instance, that when I’m in a workshop I tend to pick up on the styles or forms other students in my class are experimenting with—if I see something I like, I try to do something similar. Which is great–I love being around other writers for that very reason: to learn from what they do. But has that led to a certain style of poetry being promoted on our campus? And should we be attempting to read and write outside our own comfort zones, for the sake of exploring the diverse range of poetry that obviously exists ‘out there’?

I guess what I’m asking is: does Geneseo have a specific style of poetry? And is that a bad thing?

6 Replies to “Is There a Geneseo School of Poetry?”

  1. There is definitely a Geneseo-style of poetry but I think the same goes for prose as well. When I was in the Gandy Dancer class and I was reading for nonfiction, I was wondering if I was just reading different work that I disliked or just truly bad work (then again, when someone uses heart symbols as bullet points in an essay, just say no). Admittedly my style and preference has changed since coming to college. But I think that it’s continually changing and what I enjoy right now I didn’t enjoy a year ago or even two years ago. The Geneseo school of writing has made me particular about writing (or at least just my own).

    However, part of me wants to push back that it’s just Geneseo promoting a singular style of writing. I don’t necessarily think it’s Geneseo-specific. Many of our classmates are currently being published which is amazing and awesome! Obviously others are buying what they’re sellling. Also, this style of poetry that you mentioned is similar to the poets that read at the Sigma Tau Delta conference last year. When I read my poetry in a panel of other undergraduate poets ranging from 20-somethings to 70-somethings, I found that there was an emphasis on imagery and complexity.

    Perhaps it’s not really just a Geneseo style but more like an academia style. Lots of critics of MFA programs and workshops believe that these places create cookie-cutter writing that looks the same in style and technique. I would like to disagree but I do see their points too. Our creative writing program is all focused on workshop so naturally a certain technique taught by the faculty (who also participated in workshops) will come through our work. People who are being published come from these workshops and then become editors themselves. Although I agree that there is definitely a Geneseo-specific style, I also think that it’s just a subset of the type of academia-influenced writing that’s being produced right now.

  2. Katie & Christina,

    I’ve been thinking about your comments for a while, and the similarity of Geneseo poets is something I too have thought about. There’s no sense denying that we all learn from each other–everyone’s strengths and weakness–as that’s just the nature of workshop. I think that maybe some of these feelings stem from (as Amy put it in an earlier post) the sense of a “workshop community.” As we take more upper level workshops we tend to spend more time with the same writers, getting to know their styles and obsessions, and that is undoubtedly influential to our own writing.

    As to whether our writing styles are similar, I don’t know if I’m in a position to say considering I feel included in this “Geneseo School of Poetry” and larger still the Geneseo writing community. I think that our mechanics and structural choices might be similar, but I think we all have our own styles that we tend to fall back on. I’m curious as to whether this is something Lytton has noticed coming to Geneseo.

    I don’t have an answer, but I know that I’m glad the writing community here is as close as it is. I think all of this just boils down to the reason why reading poetry is just as important as writing it. When we read the work of poets from outside Geneseo (and other writers as well–you never know when poetry will rise up to smack you in the face), whether they are new, emerging, or established, we become more exposed to a poetic world be might otherwise never encounter. That’s why we read collections in class, besides just workshopping. It’s important to try and read new poems and go to readings; you never know what you might learn that you wouldn’t expect!

  3. Not too long ago I was an outsider to the Geneseo Poetry world, and now that I’m becoming a small part of it I can definitely say there is something of a Geneseo school of Poetry. I notice many poems beginning with a “We” or “You” followed by a noun transformed into a verb, as well as several poems featuring obscure pop-culture/academic references. Perhaps the reason I notice patterns like these is because I have a pair of fresh eyes, and also because my current style of poetry differs from this style (understand I am NOT dismissing everyone’s poems as predictable or formulaic because this not at all the case). However, even after a few weeks of participating in this workshop I find my poetry yearning to adopt some of these patterns. As both Christina and Erin have pointed out, we all influence and learn from each other, which is a positive thing. Still, I think it’s important for each of us to find our own style(s) and work to refine them rather than fit our poems into a certain mold.

    All this is to say that I am incredibly intimidated by your guys’ writing.

  4. After taking a couple of poetry workshops at Geneseo, I’ve definitely noticed this trend of the “Geneseo School of Thought” when it comes to poems. While I am hesitant to call this a Geneseo-wide phenomenon, there is a lot of correlation between the poems of students in upper-level workshops, which is to be expected. We’re reading the same collections, talking about the same poems, and being taught by the same professors. We read each other’s poems again and again, until we incorporate a bit of everyone else’s styles into our own poems. Overall, we’re all just trying to grow as poets in the only way you really can–reading other people’s poems and replicating and picking out things we want to try from both collections and our peers. We should, of course, be reading outside of our comfort zones. However, these zones of comfort are always changing–the things that are outside of our comfort zones right now could easily be incorporated into the Geneseo School of Poetics as soon as we read a new collection or try a different exercise in class.

  5. There’s something to be said about the relatively similar literary places we occupy in our lives. We’re young, probably haven’t been seriously writing for more than 5-10 years and like nascent jocks we want to flex our muscles (and that new vein that looks really cool). Instead of looking in the mirror for a half hour, or wearing tank tops everywhere, we sit down at the computer and bust out a double colon, or verb a noun like “legal pad.” And this is good.

    As young(ish) writers its for the best that we run around sniffing and licking everything like over-excited puppies. We’re going to mess up and sneeze in the readers face when we should be giving it a nice lick, we’ll fall into floridness on the way to puking in our mouths or having the tops of our heads cleaved off, but *queue myriad of voices from childhood saying you learn from your mistakes.*

    As a writing community we should be wary of going crazy in the same direction. I have no fear that this is happening, though. If we put a Romy poem next to an Evan poem next to a Savannah poem next to a Jay poem we might find some of the same techniques, but they would be employed for many different reasons to create an ever wider array of effects.

  6. Alright, so I was rereading this post, and I think I finally have an adequate response. There definitely is a school of thought in Geneseo about poetry, but I’m not sure I’d define it as a school in the traditional sense (which in my mind is a movement, like objectivists or new formalists or beats, that espoused certain ideas about what poetry should or should not be). If I’m wrong and there is indeed a concrete Geneseo school of poetry, it might just be because I’m relatively new to this whole scene, and I’m still picking up on the Geneseo school of thought on style and purpose.

    I have noticed a lot of poems that feature concrete and detailed images, and some rather lyrical poems, but I’ve noticed poems that deal in abstractions as well. I’ve noticed poems that experiment quite a bit with punctuation, but then some with relatively little. The most prominent thing to me is the noun verbing, which I’ve seen in most of the poems in workshop. I’ve also notice quite a few double colons, but I wasn’t sure if those were people experimenting with things they’d seen other people do, or if they were parts of the Geneseo style.

    Also, I was wondering if we have a Geneseo poetry publication. I know we have Mint and Opus, but those publish essays and photos, as well as poetry and such. I’m sure there’s a reason if we don’t or can’t or shouldn’t have a Geneseo poetry magazine, but if we simply don’t have one… maybe we should think about what a Geneseo school of poetry would look like in print.

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