Buffalo Poetics: bibliographies of small press publications & very short history of the founding of the Poetics Program

from chloroform: an aesthetics of critical writing, eds. Nick Lawrence & Alisa Messer(1997): annotated bibliographies of UB small press publications:annotated bibliographies of UB small press publications:

Selected Bibliography of Buffalo Publications: 1960-1996 compiled by Kristin Prevallet: pdf

•A History of Poetics at Buffalo: 1960-1990 a timeline from Cynthia Kimball & Taylor Brady: pdf

from my essay "A Blow Is Like an Instrument" in Attack of the Difficult Poems


At the SUNY-Buffalo, I was the director of the Poetics Program, co-founded in 1991 by Robert Creeley (our first director), Susan Howe, Raymond Federman, Dennis Tedlock, and myself.

I came to Buffalo as Butler Chair visiting professor in the Fall 1989; Susan Howe had been Butler chair the year before. I had scant teaching experience. I first taught in the Winter quarter of 1987 at the University of California – San Diego’s writing program. In the summer of 1988, I taught my first literature class at Queens College. I also had taught a class in Princeton’s Creative Writing Program for two semesters (Spring 1989 and Spring 1990). I was appointed David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters in Fall 1990 (Creeley had been the first Gray Chair, but had been promoted to the Capen Chair a couple of years earlier). We hired Susan Howe and she came back to Buffalo in the Fall of 1991. In Buffalo that first year, Bob and I cooked up the idea for the Poetics Program, though Bob had wanted to secede from the English department and move to the then under construction Center for the Arts. I argued that we should use the administrative support of the English degree and have our students receive the more generic English Ph.D. In 2003, I was appointed Donald T. Regan Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. The program has its roots in the formation of the English Department at Buffalo in the early 1960s by Albert Cook. Cook had the idea that you could hire literary artists to teach not creative writing but literature classes, and in particular literature classes in a Ph.D. program. It was with this in mind that he hired Creeley, Charles Olson, and others; it marked a decisively other path from far more prevalent graduate (usually M.A. and M.F.A.) “creative writing” programs that emerged at the same time.


By formalizing this concept in the early 90s, shortly after Howe and I came to UB, we were suggesting an alternative model for poets teaching in graduate, but also undergraduate, programs. The Poetics faculty teaches in the English Department’s doctoral program, supervising orals and directing scholarly/critical dissertations, even if our license to this is more poetic than formal. A frequent question I get from students applying to the program is whether they can write a creative dissertation. I always do a double take: “I hope it will be creative, but it can’t be a collection of poems or a novel.” For the fact is that Poetics students have the same requirements as all other graduate students and are admitted by the same departmental committee. And while we encourage active questioning of the conventions of critical and scholarly writing, we remain committed to the practice of poetics as something distinct from, even though intersecting with, the practice of poetry. The implications of this perspective are perhaps more pragmatic, not to say programmatic, than theoretical: while the “creative writing” approach at universities often debunks the significance of critical reflection, sometimes pitting creativity against conceptual thinking, the Poetics Program insists that scholarship, historical research, and critical writing are at the core of graduate education. 

This is not to say that a Ph.D. program is appropriate for most poets. I tend to discourage people who ask my advise from pursuing this degree at any institution, partly to ensure that they have considered the limitations of the academic environment in terms of artistic freedom, compensation, and future employment.  But if this is the choice they make, it is likely because they want to be teachers, editors, and writers and where their writing is as likely to be criticism or poetics as poetry.

The Poetics Program is fully integrated into the English Department, presenting seminars and sponsoring events within that context, even while marking such offerings as our own. We also provide modest funding to students to publish magazines and books (print and electronic) as well as to organize their own poetry readings, talks series, and conferences: over the past decade, this has resulted in dozens of magazines, scores of books, and numerous visitors, not to mention our web site, the Electronic Poetry Center, created by Loss Pequeño Glazier (epc.buffalo.edu).

While many doctoral programs in English expect students to choose between being poets and scholars, we suggest that the one activity may enhance the other, for those so inclined. The poets, as I’ve suggested, do their poetry and their editing on their own: it informs their graduate work but is never the explicit content of it. And, equally significant, the Poetics graduate students form a vital community among themselves, where their shared interest in criticism and scholarship, poetry writing, and teaching  make for an active bond. As it turns out, this mix seems to produce Ph.D.s who are eager and well qualified to teach literature as well as writing.

Poetics Program (historical/archival)
The Poetics List
Historical set of Wednesday at 4 posters and calendars (1990-2005)
1991 First Poetics Program flier: pdf
New Coast Conference flier (1993) : jpg
A Haven for Poet-Scholars: Poetry Program in Buffalo Blends Creativity and Criticism" by Liz McMillen in Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 1995: pdf
1999 Poetics Program flier / intro
"Letter from Buffalo" by Paul Quinn, TLS, June 30, 2000: pdf
A Web Site Grows New Poems, Sometimes Right Before Readers' Eyes [on the EPC], by Zoe Ingalls, Chronicle of Higher Education,July 25, 2000: pdf

Syllabi from the first decade of the program:
Charles Bernstein
Loss Pequeño Glazier
Susan Howe
Dennis Tedlock