When I was a grad student in the MFA program at Brown, I also had the pleasure of teaching undergrad creative writing classes there. The students were bright, engaged, motivated — partly because they had to fight for a spot to be in the class in the first place. But I had no idea how to teach — I threw readings at the students without any kind of preparation, not having the slightest clue what that would entail, anyway.
I’ve just finished a semester of teaching documentary poetry to a group of graduate students. This mixed form proved extremely generative. Student projects focused on women in prison, a homeless woman, a forgotten city, a planned town and its secrets, tourism, food and activism, and a lost grandfather. All of these projects (chapbooks and one on-line text) worked like accordians, moving back and forth between material and abstraction, between persons and communities. If a drawer can said to be an accordian, then Donovan Kūhiō Colleps’s project, which takes as its central artifact a filing cabinet containing his late grandfather’s papers, breathes its histories in and out. (See the project above: “from The Files of Curtis P. Ah You.") Another of the central images in his chapbook, made out of file folders, is the Pulmo-Aide Respirator, whose instruction guide he uses in the central poem. As the respirator is put together, according to the instructions, we learn about his grandfather’s links (broken and sustained) to his past, and of his love for — among other things — University of Hawai`i women’s volleyball. (A cultural marker if there ever was one.)