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⏰ Wake Up!! It's time for Poetry School with Crista Siglin
An interview with our favorite poetry teacher of all time
Sharpen your pencils, we FINALLY got our teacher-assignment for the fall semester and ohmygod… it’s Crista Siglin!!! Wait, you got her too?? This is going to be THE BEST school year ever!! ✏️ ✏️ ✏️
For the month of September, Crista is going to be taking over PTK, not only with her own work but also with a bunch of whacky poetry prompts for you to respond to. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!!
If you’re gunning to be the teacher’s pet (which let’s be honest, we all are) we’re also running a contest where you could win a scholarship to attend Crista’s legendary Poetry As__A Workshop AND get published on PTK!
Keep scrolling for more info! But first, let’s get to know Crista…
Get to Know Your Teacher: Crista Siglin 💚🍏📗
PTK: Hiiii! Who are you?
Crista: Hiiii, PTK! I’m Crista Marie Siglin (she/they). Here’s a little bio-ish synopsis: I am a Berlin-based artist and poet. I grew up in the Midwestern United States (Iowa), and went to the Kansas City Art Institute for Painting and Creative Writing. I was a poetry editor for SAND Journal Berlin for four and a half years. I’ve published my writing in many publications, as well as 2 books of poems. I run the on-going Poetry As__A Workshop (est. 2019), and facilitate the recurring event “Akimbo” (est. 2023).
My work explores the body and the mind’s relationship to environment, trauma, time, and phantasmagoria. I enjoy chasing ghosts, climbing trees, and watching trash tv intermittently alongside the Criterion Collection. My whole adult life has been accompanied by my farmboy ginger cat, Apollo. I have two younger siblings who have taught me immeasurably and have made me laugh until I’ve cried way more than they’ve ever made me cry.
None of this is who I am, but it’s a start. I’m a sober, sensitive, nocturnal ambivert who procrastinates and attempts to connect with other living beings (when not over-stimulated). I love puns, cherries, and fizzy drinks. I’m also bisexual and not really sure what gender means to me anymore.
PTK: Describe what we’d find in your Trapper Keeper (real or metaphorical) at age 13.
Crista: I always started out with really great intentions. I had my actual assignments written down very neatly and tidily throughout September and maybe October, but then it gradually disintegrated into a series of doodles and passed notes. Mostly doodles — lots of eyeballs, actually. And words and quotes I found amusing.
PTK: You do so much. You run poetry workshops, have published poetry books, did a long-running gig as the poetry editor at SAND, have been featured on The Poetry Foundation, etc.… how did you become a quote unquote “career poet”? And how do you feel about the concept of “poetry as a career” in general?
Crista: I’m not really sure how it happened. I started writing poems about 11 years ago, and then found that some people really responded to them. Sometimes I wrote poems in response to my own paintings.
I found it was a really really helpful way to excavate what was going on with me. It was the most effective way of exposing myself to myself. I let myself know things that were too much to know in any other way. Reading, writing, and performing poetry changed my life, and at the risk of being melodramatic, I think really saved it at points.
Everything that followed has to do with the love of poetry, as well as exercising my curiosity about what it means to interact with poetry within a sense of community. The career part has had varying degrees of importance to me, but as the planet continues to change, the career part feels less important, and the community and expression evermore important. But money and affirmation can be really nice, tbh. We need to pay poets! Keep them alive! And tell them their work is important to us when it is!
PTK: In addition to all of the cool poetry stuff you do, you’re also a visual artist! Do you find that to be a separate practice from your poetry, or do they intertwine (and how)?
Crista: When I was 19 (on a school summer program in New York), I got really stuck in my visual art practice. I think I might have been visually over-stimulated and couldn’t turn around and produce images anymore for that time. My teacher at the time told me to do what felt most natural to me. He encouraged me to let go of the idea that my practice always had to be painting — that I was still an artist if I was not making physical art, that poetry was a totally valid facet to my practice.
From that point onward, poetry and visual art were both vital to my creative expression. I’ve spent over a decade moving between forms now.
Now, I find that they serve different functions. There are things I can and can’t express in both — they each have limitations and thresholds, but also unique offerings. I will move through similar concepts and ideas in both my writing and visual work to see what materiality or immateriality can illuminate or amplify.
PTK: You do all of this based out of Berlin, why and when did you decide to move there?
Crista: I came to Berlin after feeling totally heartbroken by the United States. I moved here with an ex on July 4th, 2017 with middle fingers blazing in the direction of the US — and a sense of mystery in the direction of Germany. My ex and I chose Berlin for many reasons — some social, some artistic, and some quite arbitrary. I had never been to Berlin before I moved here. Once here, I hit rock bottom with my drinking and got sober. I found multiple communities, as well as a new way to be in the world. It has taken time, but now I do feel a sense of longing for the Midwest, but also a feeling that I will never live there again. But, who knows.
PTK: For those who don’t know, Kelly and Larissa met in one of Crista’s workshops, and she is actually the person who encouraged us to start a project together (thus earning the official title of “poetry mommy”). Why did you suggest we start something together? If our parents had to do a parent / teacher conference with you, what would you tell them about us? (we’re not reaching for compliments here at all)
Crista: A brief history on my thought process on why Kelly and Larissa should be the creators of a new and hot pink realm of visionary poetry: both make poems that are so tuned in with structures of thought and language outside of the ordinary bounds of poetry. They brought in things like surveys and indexes and would then subvert our expectations/associations with them by finding some way in which they could metaphorically highlight a different dynamic of society and/or self through the form itself. Basically, they both have a flair for acknowledging that anything can be brought in and used in the world of the poem. They were both wild, but also sensitive and aware. No scruples, but also weirdly idealistic simultaneously. They’re both very funny. And obviously absolutely perfect for one another. No question.
In terms of a conference… I would beg both sets of parents to acknowledge Kelly and Larissa’s full poetic potential and prowess, to raise their allowances, and to pay attention to the commentary that their kids have to provide the world. Also, I would repeat the above history. I would, poem by poem, underscore the profound brilliances xoxoxo
PTK: You’ve taught workshops on poetry as haunting, telephone, location, cosmos, celebration… what inspires you when crafting the content for your workshops?
Sometimes, no joke, I will dream about what I want to present. Sleep contains a lot of information.
Or, I will run into a specific poem or essay that I really feel compelled by and build off of that, or around it. So far, I really loved Poetry as Magic and Poetry as Haunting. But all of them have been special. I also tend to feel attracted to ideas that center poetry, but are not limited to poetry. I want space for other media, or more generally, just more space to wiggle around. It feels important to not discuss poetry in a vacuum, but in congress with the world around.
PTK: Speaking of digital mediums (like online workshops that bring poets together), what do you think has been the internet’s impact on poetry as a whole?
Crista: Oof, wow. I’m not really sure. I think poetry has become more capable of holding fragmentation, because of the way our consciousnesses are shifting in the face of our perpetual internet interfacing. We can contain the disjointedness because, we ourselves have become more disjointed. I think brevity has become more important too, both because of the new ways in which we share poetry, and the way in which the economy of attention is in flux (ever more divided and quick). I don’t think it’s all bad. The fragmentation and expanded field of references can feel really exciting to me. Yi Won has poems that really tap into this.
PTK: A lot of our PTK readers are newbies to poetry, what advice would you give to someone who wants to give poetry a try, but doesn’t know where to start?
Crista: Read poetry — there’s no poem that isn’t poem-y enough to start on. As a kid, I loved Shel Silverstein, and I would still cite him as a major influence. I’d also say, try responding to anything — a film, a song, a weird moment by the water. Do a free write and then try rearranging it, or adding/subtracting to it after the fact.
Don’t feel like the poem needs to be born from another poem, though, that can also be really helpful. You can mimic forms, use lines as springboards.
I think, actually, try anything and everything. Cut up old poems. Collaborate. Record your post-dream thoughts. Try to read your houseplant’s mind. Move your words around the page. All around it. Change line breaks. Ask what every space and piece of punctuation might insinuate about the words they interact with. I think play is such an integral part to starting. That is my regret about my beginning — I took it so seriously.
PTK: What is the #1 poetry book (or writer) you’d recommend to people who say they hate poetry?
Crista: Oh jeez. Different flavors of poetry-hatred require different antidotes.
If you feel like poetry is too serious, try Patricia Lockwood.
If you feel like it is too distant from anything else you read, try Feng Sun Chen (Butcher’s Tree references lots of folklore/mythology).
If you get sick of being in the realm of humans, try Sawako Nakayasu, who has an entire collection on ants.
or Kaveh Akbar,
or Raymond Antrobus,
or Dorthea Lasky,
or Danez Smith,
or Ada Limón,
or Eileen Myles, or or or
Reasons reasons reasons — not to hate poetry. If you can just wholesale say “I hate poetry,” I think you just haven’t read enough of it. Also, I feel like every person who has ever taken my workshop has produced a poem that has exposed a new corner of my heart, has really taught me something. There are poets all around, at all times, putting words together that reverberate awe and wonder and reasons to be alive and awake.
The very first poet I was totally in love with was unsurprisingly (for me) Emily Dickenson. I mean, you can also start there? This question was really hard.
Also wondering about films to crack through… Seventh Seal? The Color of Pomegranates? The Taste of Cherry? Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives?
PTK: If you could give your tween self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Crista: BREATHE, DAMN IT.
And also, honor the parts of yourself that are not able to be what you think they should be. They are. So let them. Shoulds can kill you. Open the space where poems are born by acknowledging where you actually are.
Crista: Marry - Ekphrasis
Fuck - Contrapuntal
Kill - Prose Poetry…sorry…
Your First Poetry Prompt 🎒
aka, your homework for the week ✏️
We want you to share your responses with us in the comments of our Substack and/or tag us on instagram so we can see what you’re coming up with!!
Prompt 1 by Crista Siglin:
1. Rummage through your closet. Find a couple things you want to be rid of. 👚
2. Gift wrap them. 🎁
3. After a couple days, open them up.
4. Write a poem about these items as though you are seeing them for the first time, as though they really were a gift. Do phantom memories of the items' past lives permeate the poem?? 👻
We can’t wait to see what you come up with <333. You can also use any of your responses to enter into our “Poetry School Writing Contest with Crista Siglin & PTK” - keep scrolling for more details on that!
Writing Contest 📓
Enter for a Chance to Win a Scholarship to Crista’s “Poetry As_A Workshop” & Get Published on PTK!🎓
Okay, so, for the duration of this PTK takeover, Crista is going to be sharing her infamous poetry prompts for all of us to respond to!
If you want a chance to win a fully-paid scholarship to attend your choice of Crista Siglin’s Poetry As__A Workshop (valued at up to 150 EUR) AND get published on PTK, you can submit any of your responses to Crista’s prompts to our writing contest!
After the end of September, Crista will pick one winner. All entries must be received by 10pm GMT on October 1st 2023.
➡️ Head to this form ⬅️
Submit a poem that responds to any of Crista Siglin’s prompts published on PTK (or our instagram) for the month of September (please indicate in the form which prompt you’re responding to!)
Multiple entries are allowed, but please be aware it's only one person reviewing the entries, so we appreciate you keeping it at 3 or less entries per person <3
By entering into the Poetry School with Crista Siglin & PTK writing contest, you are subject and consenting to the full Terms & Conditions.