When I was a student at Oberlin (from 1994-1998) I studied closely with poetry professors Stuart Friebert, David Young, and Martha Collins. What especially strikes me in retrospect was the international nature of the work they (and the presence of Field and the Field Translation Series) offered creative writing students to read and emulate, including such wonderful writers as Max Frisch, Rainer Maria Rilke, Miroslav Holub, Marin Sorescu, Wislawa Szymborska, Novica Tadic, Eugenio Montale, Günter Eich, Vasko Popa, and Attila Jozsef. (In fact, I first read several of these writers in my professors' translations.)
It wasn't until I was in graduate school that I realized such extra-American reading wasn't typical of an aspiring American poet. I think the broad scope such a regimen offers a young writer helps him/her avoid some of the aesthetic entrenchments of American poetry-entrenchments that seem to me a little myopic when viewed in a larger cultural and aesthetic context.
My junior year, while I was a student in Stuart Friebert's translation workshop, I met Moikom Zeqo, an Albanian poet who visited our class to discuss Albanian language and literature. At a dinner that evening with Zeqo, faculty, and students, I got up the nerve to ask Zeqo if he would let me work on translating a group of his poems for an end-of-the-semester project. Ten years (and a whole lot of revising) later, my book-length translation, I Don't Believe in Ghosts (2007), was published by BOA Editions as a Lannan Selection.
After I graduated from Oberlin, I worked for a year in the Appeals Bureau of the Manhattan (NY) District Attorney's Office before I attended the University of Houston to pursue an MFA. Like Oberlin, Houston had a uniquely international focus (one of my professors there was Adam Zagajewski, perhaps the most prominent member of the Polish "New Wave"), and thus my choice to attend Houston was really an extension of the poetic values instilled in me at Oberlin.
While at Houston, I received a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, which, in addition to helping me pay off some debt, allowed me to live in Madrid for three months of intensive Spanish study. (I'd fallen in love with Antonio Machado's poetry in translation, and I wanted to be able to read him-at least a little bit-in Spanish, too.) Around that time, I also began publishing my poems in literary magazines.
When I finished my MFA, I was hired to teach at the University of Central Missouri, where for the past seven years I've been an editor of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. My first poetry collection, Only the Senses Sleep, was published in 2006 by New Issues; my second collection, The Book of Props, is just out (in 2009) from Milkweed Editions. And, in keeping with the internationalism encouraged at Oberlin, I co-edited with my colleague Kevin Prufer and 22 regional editors the anthology New European Poets (Graywolf, 2008), which collects 290 European poets who published their first books after 1970.
It's an easy-almost expected-thing to say in a narrative about one's alma mater, but it's also very true: if it weren't for my professors at Oberlin-my writing professors especially, but also professors in history (Heather Hogan and Geoffrey Blodgett), sociology (Jim Walsh), and English (David Walker)-I would be, at the very least, a profoundly different person. If I were still a poet, I have no doubt my aesthetics and ideas would be radically different than they are today.