Associate Professor, Humanities and Media Studies
You are a poet, singer, and playwright—how do you manage to do so many different things, and still do them well?
I actually consider all those art forms part of the same thing: being a poet. Poetry has so many applications; I just feel that I'm discovering poetry with whatever I'm doing, including teaching and learning from my students.
How did being active in the slam poetry scene of the 1990s lead you to your current work?
The slam environment helped me understand what my relationship to poetry is in what I call three-dimensional space—meaning the live and auditory environment. Before that, I mostly thought of poetry as occupying two-dimensional, or visual, space. Taking part in poetry slams was tremendously helpful and eventually lead to my writing of sound poetry only for live/auditory environments. It also helped me go further with some of my work that was at first only meant to be seen on the page and experienced in the voice and mind of the reader. Most of my poems are somewhere in the middle—they can be experienced one way when I read them, and another when the reader reads them to him or herself.
The slam poetry scene is still quite active, especially on college campuses as well as on TV shows like Brave New Voices. The novelty isn't as present anymore so there aren't as many news stories about it, probably.
Do you find that teaching performance studies and/or cultural theory at an art school is different than it is at a liberal arts college?
There are some substantial differences teaching at Pratt than at other places. The visual artists analyze their own work textually, intensely, but many aren't as confident in work that's presented in a literary format. I think one of my jobs as a teacher is to transfer the knowledge they're developing in their other classes into my courses. Their visual skills are not as far away from the work for my class as they often think! In my classes I often give them the opportunity to play with and apply the skills they're learning in their art and design classes, to the work they do for humanities topics.
What projects do you have going on right now?
Oh, a few: a new poetry book that should be coming out soonish and an academic book that references my dissertation topic, philosopher J.L. Austin. I am also working on three CD projects: one with my band, one with composer Elliott Sharp, and one with poetry legend Anne Waldman. As an actor, I'm performing in a play that's in development. All these things are ‘words work’ and, despite the different genres, are, to me, all related.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in Brooklyn since growing up here, and what do you like best now about Brooklyn?
I am a Brooklyn-aholic, a Brooklyn evangelist. It's in my heart. I grew up in East New York under sometimes-difficult circumstances. When I was a teenager we moved to Clinton Hill, not too far from here. When I was younger I felt that Pratt was "distant" from me, despite the physical proximity. I sometimes find it ironic that I'm teaching here. One day, I hope, there will be more interaction among long-time residents of this neighborhood, its newer residents, and the campus.
There are too many aspects of Brooklyn that I love, to be able to pick just a few. I was recently a finalist for Brooklyn poet laureate, and in my proposal I asked to work in every part of the borough. There are entire countries here, it seems, that I have yet to discover. I think that was true then, and I hope it always will be. I like two things about Brooklyn now: that I don't have to leave here to teach here and the fact that, finally, everyone knows that Brooklyn is the greatest place in New York.
How did you come to teach a class on vampires and what exactly do you cover in it?
I like examining aspects of popular culture and putting new, deeper considerations onto them. There is a lot of scholarship on why vampires are popular figures. I like to think about, and ask my students to consider, what these huge popular culture waves might indicate about our society as well as how they might have developed. The vampire class considers vampires and vampirism as a fictional metaphor to consider ideas of prejudice, freedom, literary trends, and creative movements. That's as brief as I can be and spare you the entire syllabus!
What would people be surprised to learn about you that they may not know?
I'm not being modest but I'm pretty boring. I just read and write. Sometimes I perform what I read and write. But I'm basically doing the same things I was doing when I was a kid, a goofy, nerdy kid. Then again, people may know that about me already.
Photo: Evelyn Diaz