Theodore Deppe is the author of three books of poems (CAPE CLEAR: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, Salmon, 2002; THE WANDERER KING, Alice James Books, 1996; and CHILDREN OF THE AIR (Alice James Books, 1990) and a chapbook of poems (NECESSARY JOURNEYS, Andrew Mountain Press, 1988). His work has been recognized by two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and by grants from the Connecticut Council on the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 1999. His poems have been published in many journals including Poetry, Harper's Magazine, The Kenyon Review, Poetry Ireland Review, The Southern Review, Boulevard, Ploughshares, AGNI Review, Crazy Horse, The Massachusetts Review, and The New England Review.
He has served as Writer in Residence for the James Merrill House in Stonington, CT (1998-1999)and for Phillips Academy in Andover, MA (2003-2006). He has taught in the Masters programs in writing at The Poets' House, Ireland(2001-2002), Lancaster University (England 2002-2004), and Stonecoast MFA program, Maine (2003 to present). Currently, he directs the Stonecoast in Ireland program, an option that allows Stonecoast MFA students to take residencies in Ireland. He and Annie moved back to Donegal in September 2006.
Cape Clear: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Books, County Clare, Ireland, 2002)
As mentor, my first job is to listen: I need to hear what a writer is already doing and where s/he wants to go. Sometimes, I ask questions to help a student articulate his or her goals. Then, I make suggestions, the student uses the ones that seem helpful, and together we evaluate the results. There is no one way to write a poem, nor are there hard-and-fast rules. The semester is an on-going conversation centered on the student's work.
I try to be as honest as possible, clearly identifying what works for me in a student's poem and what doesn't. It's difficult to raise our work to the next level without that sort of straightforward response. But I also try to be supportive; it's hard to write a really good poem, and I do everything I can to help a student.
Good writing comes from good reading, so the reading list is a vital part of the semester. The list is mutually agreed upon and designed to address the individual student's strengths and weaknesses. I look for rigorous engagement with these books in the "annotations" students write in response to them. I want the student to "read as a writer," identifying techniques and strategies they can employ in their own poems. I find it helpful to have students include full cover letters with their packets, discussing their own progress and problems. In turn, my responses deal with larger issues as well as line editing.
I am open to many different approaches to poetry, but my favorite poems often arise from acts of self-discovery rather than self-expression. I love the journey a poem can make during revision; although I am always ready to compress a poem, I am as likely to suggest opening it up for further exploration. I try to help the writer identify the heart of a poem and find ways to bring out the emotional intensity of a piece.
I'm flexible about scheduling dates for packets. I generally keep a day completely clear for each packet; as long as a student's work arrives on time, I am usually able to return it by the next day.
A program like Stonecoast is set up so that each student-mentor relationship can evolve individually, in a way that is most helpful to the student's work. I've loved getting to accompany some fine writers on their journeys.
My first day leading the prison writing workshop: Carlos
complimented my choosing the chair nearest the door.
I read a poem by Whitman that once sent me hitchhiking,
and Carlos stood up, asked to read a section
from his four-hundred-page work-in-progress, a poem
that turns on his first finding Neruda's "One Year Walk;"
he said it lit up the night like a perfect crime, so I left everything--
I had no choice--walked three thousand miles to the Pacific.
He recited a passage in which his father left the family
a small fortune, all counterfeit: though I doubted the facts,
I can still see that worn briefcase, almost-perfect hundreds
stacked neatly in shrink-wrapped packs. I was young,
it took me two weeks to accept that I could teach this lifer
nothing. World of concrete floors and everlasting light:
he was grateful to God who gave him a blazing mind not granted
to anyone living or dead,
and wouldn't have changed a word anyway.
© Ted Deppe
From Cape Clear: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Books, Ireland, 2002).