What influences poet Ed Skoog? Really, the question should be where is Ed Skoog influenced. Skoog, the newest Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Residence, may be in DC right now, but whose to say where he will be next fall. Even he does not know or want to know. “I don’t want to pick a place to settle down,” he said.
This somewhat nomadic existence is a good thing for Skoog and his poetry. Moving constantly is what stimulates him as a writer. He said, “It’s disorienting and exciting. The tensions that come from it are beautiful. So how can you choose? To choose one place is to deny so many others.”
Luckily, Skoog has never had to make that choice. Although his family has lived in Kansas for eight generations, he left as soon as he could, for college in Montana. Yet he did not even stay there for long and packed up a car to drive to New Orleans. For almost a decade he let the city inspire him, but coincidentally he took a job in California only ten days before Hurricane Katrina hit. There does not seem to be an semblance to any of these locales, yet Skoog sees it differently. “I’m drawn to places that were kind of margins of regular contemporary society,” he said.
Skoog has always felt somewhat on the margins of society just by his career choice. “Poetry is not a job exactly, but what I do,” he said. “All I wanted to do since age nine is write poetry. I’ve never been good at anything else.”
Skoog’s talent as a poet is what led him to the prestigious fellowship he holds and enjoys today. “It’s exciting to talk about poetry with people who are interested in hearing about it. It’s exciting and enlivening. Any conversation affects my work that day,” he said.
Although he only teaches two classes, one for undergraduates and one for all citizens of DC, Skoog has found himself incredibly productive since he arrived here. He walks around the city carrying a notebook and taking notes on what he sees and hears. “I go to museums, matinee movies, and observe street life. Its a mix of high and low art,” he said. Dialogue, everything from podcasts to overhearing conversation inspires him. In the evenings you can frequently find Skoog at the Black Cat taking in bands such as the Fruit Bats. A serious banjo player since age sixteen, he finds that music influences his work just as much as any other medium. And somehow, he still finds time to do a drawing or make a collage every morning.
There is no question about it, Skoog was meant to be in DC. The city has always held a special significance for him. He remembers visiting his grandparents in Bethesda and going to many arts events throughout DC as a child. He said, “Its important to me to develop a sense of the city, culture, aesthetics, art, and creative life here.” And there is no better time than now, “I want to go where the action is. Where there is good writers, art, living, and cooking,” he said.
Skoog has found his arts community through GW. “Wherever I go, the thing that changes is the audience, the people I meet,” he said. “My colleagues in the English department are fine poets, scholars, and readers. The department is very welcoming, friendly, and social. I automatically stepped into an interesting group.”
He is also a literal part of the community, living in the historic Lenthall House. “The house is a nice metaphor for the role of imaginative writing in the university. Its domestic, quiet, and private, a nice visual metaphor for the city,” he said. And Skoog is the perfect new inhabitant for the house, the city, and the fellowship.
Make sure to visit Skoog’s website. And look for his new book, Mister Skylight.
The English Department is pleased to announce that the 2009-2010 Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington will be the poet Ed Skoog, author of MISTER SKYLIGHT (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). Skoog will teach ENGL 181, a poetry writing workshop, both semesters, and will helm a free creative writing workshop open to the Washington, D.C. community (but closed to students).
The prerequisite for ENGL 181 is one 100-level Creative Writing course (preferably ENGL 104).
The Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington fellowship is made possible through the generosity of the late Jenny Moore. Moore, a playwriting student at The George Washington University, was a writer and social activist in Washington, D.C. After her passing in 1973, the Jenny Mckean Moore Fund was established to encourage creative writing. Every year, the GW English Department brings an established poet or novelist to campus to teach a writing workshop for GW students and a free community workshop for adults in the greater Washington community.
The Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop is a free poetry workshop open to all interested community members, regardless of past experience. Read information about 2008’s free workshop here, which was taught by Mary Morrissy.
From the electronic mailbag:
Dear Dr. McAleavey—
I was one of the lucky students that got to participate in the JMM poetry workshop with Dr. Van Cleave (Ryan). I am writing you today to give you my feedback on the course and Ryan as a workshop leader. First, these workshops are incredibly important to the DC community. I think in this area especially we have to strive really hard to make sure that our creativity stays unique and fresh (unlike our politics where we tend to conform to one side or another). So, I found the JMM workshop to be so refreshing and vital to my life in creativity. Second, Ryan was a large part of creating this experience for me and the other workshop participants. He encouraged unique voice and poetic honesty, while maintaining a grounding in form and structure; as well as, offering relevant and varied authors/poets to guide our experience. Also, he made sure to make himself available for questions, more detailed revisions, and longer discussions on establishing creative lives for ourselves.
The workshop ended this week and I am sad and happy. Sad, because unlike a few different creative-style workshops I’ve attended, this one was really informative and alive and I’m sorry that the dynamics experienced in the group are now in the past; but happy, because it really changed my life, both professionally and creatively. Before the workshop started I’d think that maybe I was a poet and the thought itself made me feel like a liar. But after this workshop, I know I’m a poet (among a few other things). So, thank you for your time and any role you played in selecting Ryan and/or making sure that JMM stays in place for the DC community. I really enjoyed this experience and am so glad it was available for me.
— Amy Hereford
MSW, MPH Staff Writer/Snr. Research Associate Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems George Washington University Medical Center
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