Dr Katy Didden earned her BA from Washington University in St. Louis, her MFA from the University of Maryland, College Park, and her PhD from the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. This semester she’s teaching one section of ENG 285 and one section of ENG 408.
How would you describe yourself as a teacher?
One of the things I want the most, as a teacher, is for my students to have confidence in their convictions. I also want them to know how to use dialogue as a means of expanding ideas and testing assumptions, and to see the benefits of respecting and understanding other points of view. I want to convince students that because they each have unique life experiences, their contributions to class discussion and peer review are not just valuable but essential to helping the class articulate complex ideas. In my classes, I want to create an atmosphere that fosters students’ creativity, curiosity, and responsibility. I want what they learn in my class to help them succeed in all of their classes.
When are your office hours?
What are you reading?
I’m often in the middle of several books at once, and right now is no different. Here’s what’s on my desk at the moment: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature, George David Clark’s Reveille, Stanley Plumly’s Orphan Hours, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I highly recommend these books! They were highly recommended to me, which is why I have them.
Truly, though, I am spending most of my time thinking about Marianne Moore’s poem “An Octopus” (her poem about Mt. Rainier). I am writing an essay about the importance of place in poetry, and about how Moore has influenced and continues to influence my writing in that respect. Soon, I will turn my attention to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric—I’m presenting a paper on that book for a conference in November. I’m interested in how Rankine uses photographs and other visual images in Citizen to help her navigate difficult subjects such as race relations and the subjugation of women’s bodies.
What do you think everyone should read?
One short story that has stayed with me over the years, and one that has generated a lot of thoughtful discussion with my students, is Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” A quick list of poems I love would be: “At the Fishhouses,” by Elizabeth Bishop, “The City of Light,” by Larry Levis, “A Small Needful Fact,” by Ross Gay, “What he Thought,” by Heather McHugh, “Rain Effect” by Mary Ruefle, and “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in the classroom/what is a big mistake students tend to make?
The first thing that comes to mind is “eye-rolling,” though I’m also intrigued by it. On some level, people roll their eyes as a form of protest, and maybe more importantly to form a bond with their classmates (the ones for whom the eye roll is performed). What I don’t like about it is that it sets up the teacher/ student dynamic into clichéd, antagonistic roles, and that doesn’t interest me. I prefer to think of the classroom as a collaborative space. That is to say, I appreciate students who take responsibility for creating an engaged, positive environment in the classroom—it makes more of a difference than most students realize.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working on two new manuscripts of poems. The first project builds upon and advances work I began in my first book, The Glacier’s Wake. That book includes persona poems where I write in the voice of a glacier, a sycamore, and a wasp to confront the contrary impulses of consumerism and conservation. For “The Lava on Iceland,” I am erasing a series of source texts about Iceland, from a variety of disciplines (from literature and history, to politics and pop culture) into a lyric voice of lava. The project is multi-modal, and collaborative; I am working with graphic designer Kevin Tseng to set the erasures over a series of photos, alternating between the archival photos of Frederick Howell and color photographs by numerous contemporary artists and writers. The final texts are a palimpsest of photographs, source texts, and erasures.
Even while I am working on more experimental poems with the erasure project, I have been steadily working on a series of sound-driven poems, some in blank verse, and others in looser, rhyme-dense forms. These poems address a range of subjects from super derechos, to opera, to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” I see one theme emerging among the new poems, which is that many poems are in dialogue with other writers and artists, from photographers like Travis Dove, to writers like Cavafy, Dante, and Shakespeare. I have also recently returned from the Pilgrimage to Compostela in Spain, and have begun a series of poems inspired by my research of medieval Christian iconography and Spanish mystics like Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the hermits who lived at Montserrat.
What are your other hobbies?
I love to be outdoors, so some of my favorite hobbies are running, hiking, swimming, and cycling. I also love yoga, especially Iyengar, or alignment-based, yoga. I enjoy playing the guitar, and I’m currently taking guitar lessons for the first time in fifteen years!