The Liars and the Truth-tellers
IPFW Associate Professor of English Curtis Crisler is interested in the truth—and the lies we use to tell it.
Seeing poetry as a reflection of who we are as individuals, Crisler writes and teaches in pursuit of our most fundamental truths. He’s quick to suggest that “poets are the most truthful of liars,” and his workshops are designed to help his students find their own truths through creative expression.
Crisler, an accomplished author of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, has researched and written extensively on what he calls “Urban Midwestern Sensibility” and its origins in historical Southern migrations.
He often finds himself writing about the people who packed up their belongings—and their stories—and migrated north in search of prosperity, tolerance, freedom, and opportunity.
He hopes to capture the voices of those intra-continental migrants who kept records of their journeys, their lives, their deaths, and how they lived and moved.
One of his best-known works, Tough Boy Sonatas, blurs nonfiction, poetry, and young adult fiction. Taking the lessons he learned from writing Sonatas during his MFA years, Crisler now encourages his students to bend genre and blur the distinction between poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
When it comes to the truth, such distinctions aren’t always useful.
He encourages his students to write creatively, but also read creatively—to go out in search of contemporary poets, poets of color, and those whose work lives beyond the conventions of traditional genre.
Crisler treats poetry—performance poetry in particular—as an opportunity for interdisciplinary examination on the part of his students. In fact, finding in-roads and connections between poetry and their academic discipline is a major component of his undergraduate classes.
“Even if I’m in computers, or electronics, or engineering, at the end of the degree, you have to do an assignment, and then write a proposal,” he explains. “And they have your teachers, your peers, and people from the community come and see you.”
By learning to read, interpret, and perform poetry publicly, Crisler’s students learn important skills for public communication—how to hold an audience’s attention, how to speak from a place of confidence, and how to embody the topic at hand.
The Tools of the Poet
“I always have people come to me from math and biology telling me how the techniques that I use in poetry helped them in their other genres of learning,” Crisler says.
Crisler likens the lessons his students learn in his workshops to the tools in a toolbox. If they lack a skill needed to accomplish something, they must go out and find it first.
Poetry is like that, he suggests. It can be learned, manipulated, and adapted to other situations—personal, academic, and professional.
In Pursuit of Voice
One of the first goals for his students is helping them find their voice—to help them understand how to say what they have to say, and why they need to say it.
“The reason that you like whoever it is that you like and read, it’s because of their voice,” he says. “When they connect with their voices, they begin to see how to address that in any writing.”
Students who know their voice can go on to perform better in persuasive essays, grant proposals, job applications, and in any context where speaking with confidence and purpose is essential.
The poetry of the self thus becomes a lifelong skill.
Program Snapshot: Department of English and Linguistics
Thoreau. Plath. Dostoevsky. You. Discover the works of literary giants, find your own voice, and research the scientific origins of language in the Department of English and Linguistics. We graduate authors, teachers, linguists, and more. Our program includes communication media, language, literature, writing, and teacher certification. Learn more.