Oregon’s most recent poet laureate, Kim Stafford, was scheduled to visit students at Tillamook Bay Community College in April but the pandemic had other plans. His events were cancelled across the state, but that didn’t stop him and two other well-known Oregon poets from engaging with students taking an Introduction to Poetry course at TBCC. The course was taught by Sydney Elliott, and as the class transitioned to an online format, Elliott felt it was more important than ever to make sure her students remained connected and engaged.
So, Elliott reached out to Kim and two other Oregon poets, Lex Runciman and Paulann Petersen, to see if they would be interested in being “interviewed” by the students. “I’ve done similar projects in the past bringing poets from different cultures and backgrounds into the classroom, but I wasn’t sure how it would translate online,” Elliott said.
Students were put into groups and instructed to research the poet’s backgrounds and read their poetry. The groups had to come up with a list of questions for each poet to respond to. They did not have to wait long. Elliott then posted the interviews in the forums, where students could read and respond to the interviews.
Kim Stafford was asked about where he drew inspiration as an Oregon writer and had a chance to ask him how it felt to be the son of another famous Oregon poet, William Stafford. Oregon Book Award winner, Lex Runciman, was asked about his teaching career and choices about the nature of his poems, and former Oregon poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, was asked about her experiences as poet laureate and her writing practice.
Students then had to discuss the interviews in the online forum. “Many of my students have not really had a relationship with poetry, some have not read much poetry before signing up for this class. I’m always astounded at the impact the simple act of connecting students with living, working poets has on them. They feel important, and they always do an amazing job with coming up with smart and often unique questions, and the poets themselves are always generous with their time,” Elliott adds.
One student commented, “After reading all the interviews conducted, it made me that more passionate about poetry. Learning all these personal experiences and why they are poets made me want to explore my poetry even further. I feel very blessed to have had this experience and gain this knowledge.”
Elliott asserts that these types of connections are more important than ever as teachers look for creative and innovative ways to create community in the classroom, particularly online classrooms.
Elliott, who holds an M.A. in English, is well known for her creative curriculum design and has presented on her unique approaches both regionally and nationally. In addition to being a full-time English instructor at Tillamook Bay Community College, she is also a published poet and essayist. She was recently awarded the 2020 Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition award from the American Association of Community Colleges for her commitment to her students both inside and outside the classroom.