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People @ Goddard

Real name

Janet Sylvester, PhD, MFA

Email

Janet.Sylvester@goddard.edu

People @ Goddard

Program Director
Residency Sites: Plainfield, VT

Biography

Like a number of women writers, I haven’t followed a conventional academic path.  For ten years, I worked in New York at AMS Press while I completed my BA and MFA Degrees at Goddard.  Afterwards, I spent several years at Harvard Magazine, writing my first book of poems (That Mulberry Wine, Wesleyan) while I acted first as Fulfillment Manager (a tough title to live down) and then as a member of the editorial staff.   Following my first teaching job, as the writer-in-residence at Sweet Briar College (VA), I earned a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Utah.   I’ve taught in various writing programs, undergraduate and graduate:  Old Dominion University, Ohio University, University of South Carolina, Harvard, and Lesley University’s low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.  The Mark of Flesh, my second book (Norton), entered me into a conversation about poetry that still absorbs me:  What’s the role of the writer in the world?  Why are many women writers still second-class citizens in the literary world?  How can music and metaphor instigate transformation in the writer and the reader?

Poetry, in my experience, emerges from the deepest levels of the psyche.  It is only roughly occasional.  It’s almost a truism that language can be transformative and that transformation loves language. Though poets are moving away from the idea of a stable first-person, any practitioner of self-reflection knows that the stable self is chimerical.  At about 3:00 p.m. on a long workday it’s amusing to remember this. 

Work in the world can be beautiful.  A third book of poems, Visitor at the Gate, currently circulating, has become a labor of its own. A new book, still in imagination, seems to want the hybrid—a mix of poetry and prose first experimented with in Visitor.  The poems have earned prizes and fellowships:  an Academy of American Poets Award; the Grolier Poetry Prize; a PEN Discovery Award; a fellowship in poetry to Breadloaf; a Pushcart Prize; and multiple stints at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Individual poems have found homes in Blackbird, Boulevard, Poetry Daily, Georgia Review, Memoir/And, Triquarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, Seneca Review, and Harvard Review, among others.

 

Labor of any kind speaks to us of time, of money, of values, of where in the moment we are and what we must do. To be the director of our BFA Program invites labor to speak to me in a new way.  I gratefully offer the skills that I’ve learned through many decades of writing, teaching, administering, and living. Together, we’re enabled by genres, theory, cultures, eras, craft, and imagination.  As the fifteenth century Indian poet, Kabir, has said: “Listen carefully,/Neither the Vedas/Nor the Qur’an/Will teach you this:/Put the bit in its mouth,/The saddle on its back,/Your foot in the stirrup,/And ride your wild runaway mind./All the way to heaven.”

 

Educational Background:

PhD in Creative Writing and Literature, University of Utah MFA in Poetry, Goddard College BA in Literature, Goddard College

People @ Goddard