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To learn to write poetry, one must, well, write poetry. It sounds obvious, but literary art is learned best through creation, not just observation.
“All of my classes are designed around hands-on learning,” said Jeffrey Bean, who teaches poetry and creative writing at CMU. “My undergraduate degree is in music, and because of that, I believe in learning by doing. I tell my students that a pianist couldn’t learn only by listening. Eventually, he or she has to sit down and play.”
It’s a teaching philosophy found in all CMU faculty. Students succeed most through experiential learning.
“This approach inspires students and gives them a better understanding of themselves as writers, readers and thinkers,” Jeffrey said. “It allows them to participate fully in and enjoy their educations, and it makes them comfortable with being challenged to learn. Best of all, it motivates them to challenge themselves, to become lifelong students of writing and literature.”
There is still a lot to be said about the benefits of learning through the works of others, though. What better way for an aspiring creative writer to learn than going directly to the source?
Jeffrey, as part of an advanced poetry workshop, assigned six books of contemporary poetry from nationally prominent authors to students to read. To their surprise, students then had the opportunity to interview each of the six authors via Skype.
“This was a thrilling experience for me and for the students, and it completely transformed our class discussions,” Jeffrey said. “Our guest poets — who visited us virtually from cities around the country — gave me and the class not only several interesting insights into their books, but also a wealth of ideas for writing, revising, succeeding as a poet beyond the classroom, dealing with rejection, gaining acceptance into top graduate programs in creative writing and a host of other topics.”
Bringing out the creativity in his students is his ultimate goal. The best way to do that, he said, is for students to draw inspiration from their own lives and experiences.
“I want my students to grow as writers, as communicators and as critical thinkers,” he said. “I want them to believe in themselves as literary artists. So, I strive to create a classroom environment in which students’ individual stories — their ideas, their values and their writing — very much matter.”
Jeffrey has taught at CMU for nine years.
He won CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011.
Jeffrey’s full-length book of poetry, “Woman Putting on Pearls,” won the 2016 Red Mountain Prize and was published in the Red Mountain Press.