Interview with Tim Stafford

Interview with Tim Stafford

Chicago performance poet and teacher Tim Stafford recently edited a quality poetry anthology that is intended for specifically for classroom consumption. Learn Then Burn features classroom friendly poems by many today's top performance poets. It includes 50 poems by poets like Anis Mojgani, Dasha Kelly, Dane Kuttler, Geoff Kagan Trenchard, Joel Chmara, Chicago's Kevin Coval and Robbie Q. Telfer, Shappy Seasholtz, and many more. 

Recently, Tim was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. 
Chicago Subtext (CS): Learn Then Burn, I know it is safe for the classroom, but what grade level is it aimed at?

Tim Stafford (TS): It's aimed at upper elementary and high school though I know a few professors who have been using it at the college level. It mostly depends on what the teacher is using the poem for. Most poems are good for all levels but there are some that might be a bit challenging for the regular middle school class.

CS: What, aside from language, makes a piece "classroom safe"?

TS: The language is what makes it classroom safe but the content makes it classroom friendly. I was able to use poets from all walks of life who wrote differently from each other. Yes, they all fall under the umbrella of "spoken word" but they all have their own stories and tell them in different ways. There are free verse poems as well as sonnets, pantoums, and sestinas. The subjects of the poems range from Nat Turner to Zombie Vegetarians. We included poems that any teacher in any state or city could use to engage their students. We wanted to give teachers other options besides Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

CS: Were these all hand-selected or did you go through a submission process?

TS: We originally had a submission process but that didn't work out so well. Derrick gave me a lot of freedom to cultivate this book which was awesome. On the flip side, my name does not carry as much weight as Derrick's so it wasn't as easy to grab folks attention. I started reaching out to folks within the poetry slam community that I knew from running the Mental Graffiti poetry slam and asked them to submit. I asked some folks for specific poems or forms. Most folks I just gave the basic premise of the book and hoped they had something or could write something for me. Once I started to get poems from some of the more well known poets I got the confidence to start asking more folks and then eventually word got out and people just sent me stuff out of the blue.

Write Bloody seems to have a unique publishing model. What was your expirience like with Derek and crew?

TS: My publishing experience was much different than most folks with Write Bloody. For one, I didn't have to go through the extensive contest to get the book published. I've known Derrick for a few years and he was in town to officiate the wedding of a mutual friend. The next night we all went out to the Green Mill and when Derrick had a couple drinks in him I pitched him the idea. He liked the idea and he let me run with it. It took a lot longer than I thought it would but I'm glad it did. The project evolved drastically. It was originally going to be a single book with poems and lessons. Neither Derrick, myself, nor the designer could agree on the best way to lay it out. Eventually it was decided to release it as two separate books, one being the anthlogy itself and the other the Teacher's Edition.

You addressed this a little in a recent Busted Mouth podcast, but is there still a divide between performance poetry and academia?

TS: There are separatists in each camp and there always will be. Those people are narrow minded and ego driven. There are poets who play both sides of the divide so well that it ceases to exist. They write exquisite poems that any kid in an MFA program can appreciate and that random folks at a poetry slam will applaud. The problem is that there's a lot of bad poetry out there and sometimes that's the first impression people get.


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