We end our Faculty Poet blog series for this year with Professor Baruch November. Professor November has an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and has taught courses in Shakespeare, poetry, and writing at Touro College in Manhattan for more than a decade. His poems and short fiction have been featured in Paterson Literary Review, Lumina, New Myths, The Forward, Jewish Journal, Poetica, and Jewish Literary Journal, and his collection of poems entitled Dry Nectars of Plenty co-won BigCityLit’s chapbook contest in 2003. His newly released full-length collection of poetry is entitled Bar Mitzvah Dreams on which he gave an interview recently.
What prompted you to write poetry?
My mother says I wrote a poem as early as first grade about a chicken or turkey. I have no idea what prompted that, but I wish I still had the poem because it is not easy to write a poem about a chicken or turkey. However, I didn’t start writing poetry seriously until college where I took creative writing classes with teachers who encouraged me to take my writing seriously. They made me feel like I had a talent for writing that was worth pursuing. This was a different feeling than succeeding in other types of classes because it felt like I was creating something, instead of responding to class materials. It made me feel like what we were doing in those classes was unique and individualistic, rather than conforming to the concepts experts had written in a textbook.
In what form/style do you compose your poems?
My poems are written in free verse. I need the freedom. I never write in form. I am not attracted to form but someday I might be. Now, I really don’t even read poems in form anymore, except Shakespeare’s sonnets. Furthermore, I feel like my poems tell a story or share an idea. When I was younger, I explored language more. Now, I am more interested in telling a story and sharing something meaningful. However, the effective and creative use of language is still integral to my poetry– I just feel like it has to be the delivery system for powerful ideas or narratives.
What is the role of poetry in your teaching? Or how do you think poetry has an impact on students and their learning?
Well, since I teach both Introduction to Poetry and Shakespeare, poetry has a major impact on my students. I love interpreting poetry with students. It is always interesting to hear their analysis of a poem, even if I don’t agree with it. I think the close analysis of a poem– done word by word– helps students think more carefully about their own word choices and the ideas they are sharing in their writing. I hope it makes them realize the value of each written word.
Because of the nature of the poetry in my courses, it also allows me to delve into major philosophical questions about death, genocide, and how we treat our fellow man, among other things. Death and genocide are pretty grim, but I think in order to really understand the value of life such things need to be faced, and poetry is an arena for bringing up such matters, because, as Wallace Stevens explained, the job of poetry is to intensify life. What can be more intense than those topics? I think some students cringe at talking about death, but in order to truly live a meaningful and explored life, we have to delve into all parts of it. Furthermore, I hope those poems about death affect my students in such a way that they find more value in each day they live, knowing death is there lurking in the shadows somewhere in the distant future.
Contributed by Professor Baruch November, Language & Literature, NYSCAS, Touro College.
For more information on Professor November’s poems, please go to Touro Scholar.
Contributed by Baruch November, professor of Languages and Literature at the New York School of Career and Applied Studies (NYSCAS) at Touro College.