Featured Lecturer: Brittany Perham


Lecturer of the Month June 2015: Brittany Perham

What’s your favorite work that you’ve published?

When I’m working on a poem, it takes up a lot of brain space; once it’s out in the world, I don’t think about it much. The poem has taught me all it’s going to teach me, and now it’s a kind of artifact that I hope might have some relevance for someone else. That said, I can point to a poem that changed my way of working, one that I’m glad to have written. It’s called “The Curiosities” (available here). On the outside, it’s a family poem. But the poem really wants to think about the way we perceive time, and the way that perception mediates our relationship to memory and remembering. When we tell stories, we often do so in order to make sense of things. One of the ways we “make sense” is by making sense of time—by making it move in perceivable, controllable, consistent ways. But my experience of time is not usually consistent or controllable, and I think this is true for many of us. I’m always moving back and forth between the present moment and past moments. Sometimes the past moment feels more real than the present one—so real that it becomes the present. So I was thinking about what this feels like—and about how to translate this feeling in language so that a reader can feel it too. In this poem, I’d like the reader to be able to inhabit both past and present moment at the same moment, without (of course!) feeling confused. So that’s the work of the poem, and I hope now that it will have some relevance for someone else.

What are your favorite books/poems/stories?

There are some writers whose work always makes me feel like I want to write something—Edna St. Vincent Millay (a master of tone), T.S. Eliot (especially The Four Quartets), Jean Rhys (the claustrophobia and the beauty), Gwendolyn Brooks (the music!), John Berryman’s Dream Songs (an impossible project made possible), Lydia Davis (a genius)—to name the few that come to mind right now. To these writers (and to the many others not on this list) I am endlessly grateful. Recently I’ve been helped enormously by Jenny Offill’s Dept. Of Speculation, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and The Art of Cruelty, Martin Buber’s I and Thou, and Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle. Everyone should go read Spectacle right now!

What classes will you be teaching this year (2015-2016)?

This year I’ll be teaching Creative Expression in Writing, Creative Nonfiction, and (with Keith Ekiss) Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry. Creative Expression in Writing is such a great class to teach. It’s a new experience every time because everything depends on the collection of people sitting at the table. It’s really a class about experimentation, collaboration, risk-taking, chance and wildness. It’s also about developing a meaningful and personal creative practice that will feel sustaining and relevant even when the class is over. So I get to go on this journey with my students, and I always learn a lot. In the fall, I’m also teaching Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry with Keith Ekiss. The last time we offered this course was in the fall of 2012 and I’m so glad to be teaching it again. It’s fascinating to explore the formal possibilities of very short pieces, and to think about the boundaries (if there are boundaries) of genre. Prose poems and short shorts have a way of destabilizing things—our expectations, our discussions, our experiences of language. They are full of possibilities and surprises. Also, everyone gets to write a lot in this class, and to share a lot of work. As a result of this energy, I’m usually writing too.

Contact Info:

Email: bperham@stanford.edu