Frank Sherlock was named Philadelphia’s second-ever poet laureate. The first, renowned writer Sonia Sanchez, HON ’98, was the Laura Carnell Chair in English in the College of Liberal Arts until her retirement in 1999 and also was the university’s first Presidential Fellow. A 2013 Pew Fellow, Sherlock attended the College of Liberal Arts.
That both are connected to Temple is no coincidence. The university’s thriving poetry scene spans more than 20 years, and its backbone is the MFA Creative Writing Program. In addition to Sanchez, the program faculty boasts a litany of accomplished poets, including Creative Writing Program Director Jena Osman, a 2006 Pew Fellow and co-founder of the internationally recognized literary magazine Chain; Assistant Professor Brian Teare, a finalist for the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award—one of the most prestigious awards for contemporary poets; and Professor Emerita Rachel Blau DuPlessis, a 2002 Pew Fellow, and one of the foremost feminist critics and scholars in the field of poetry.
“As a poet myself, I have always found Temple to be a very special place,” Osman said. “There have been many groundbreaking poets who have taught here through the years.”
Alumni of the Creative Writing Program also have made their marks on the poetry world. For example, Pew Fellow Kevin Varrone, CLA ’97, created a mobile app that tells the history of the Philadelphia Phillies through a 79-piece poem. And the latest work of Emily Abendroth, CLA ’05, called EXCLOSURES, explores the prison industrial complex and other forms of social exclusion.
“Our students continue to write, run presses and publish books after graduation,” Teare said. “It’s a great testament to our exciting applicants and the strength of the program. I feel very lucky to teach here.”
Current poetry students have had their own successes, too. For example, first-year MFA candidate Andrew Steele Dieck has published poetry in several anthologies and is an editor at O’clock Press.
“Temple has a wonderful pedigree,” Dieck said. “The reputation of the faculty and graduates is what drew me to the program.”
Temple’s location also contributes to the program’s success. “The Philadelphia writing scene, particularly for poetry, is incredibly lively,” Osman said. “People actually move to Philadelphia for poetry.”
Indeed, numerous poetry events take place regularly across Philadelphia, such as the Chapter and Verse Reading Series, hosted by Ryan Eckes, CLA ’07; Temple’s Poets and Writers series, which brings four poets and four fiction writers to campus each year; and its annual Rachel Blau DuPlessis Lecture Series in Poetry and Poetics, which fuels discussion about the intersection of critical and creative practices.
“Temple’s Creative Writing Program began because there were a number of English professors with doctorates in scholarly subjects who were also actively publishing creative work,” Osman explained. “That intermixing of theory and practice is part of our origin story.”
The program’s small size fosters an intimate and supportive community, says second-year MFA candidate Christy Davids, who also teaches Freshman English at Temple.
“I never come away from a workshop feeling settled, but I always feel supported,” Davids said. “That helps you become a better writer.”
– Renee Cree