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Creative Writing - Poetry Faculty Spotlight

Poetry Faculty Tony Trigilio


Professor Tony Trigilio

Poet Tony Trigilio has had a long relationship with Columbia College Chicago—and Columbia has a long relationship with the genre of poetry. “Columbia was the first school in the nation to offer an undergraduate poetry major,” Trigilio says, “it was a very exciting place to land my first academic job.”

More than ten years since he arrived at Columbia—after earning his PhD in Poetry and Poetics from Northeastern University in Boston—Trigilio is still a champion of poetry education, an active faculty member in a robust graduate program, and a celebrated poet.

Although he initially recalls the excitement, in 1999, when Trigilio started as one of the College’s first full-time poetry faculty members, he was also feeling anxious. “I wasn’t part of the team that built the program, but I was part of the team of people that was tasked to implement it. We were asking questions like: How are we going to make it work? How do we deal with all the unexpected things that come up?” He and his colleagues worked through the initial growing pains, and the program soon found its footing—in its second year, it had twice as many students as the first and has continued to expand and evolve ever since. Since 2003 the department has also offered a unique MFA program dedicated exclusively to the genre of poetry.

More than ten years since he arrived at Columbia—after earning his PhD in Poetry and Poetics from Northeastern University in Boston—Trigilio is still a champion of poetry education, an active faculty member in a robust graduate program, and a celebrated poet. His poems have appeared recently in Denver Quarterly, FIELD, The Laurel Review, McSweeney’s, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, and Volt. In 2009, Trigilio was honored with an Artists Fellowship Award from the Illinois Arts Council, which recognized his significant contribution and dedication to the arts.

We have this ethos here where, as a faculty member, if you’re really immersed in a particular craft issue as a poet, then you should be teaching courses in it… then the students get you while you’re burning with that obsession.

Trigilio’s newest collection of poetry, Historic Diary, demonstrates his quirky and unconventional approach to poetry with its curious point of departure: the journals that Lee Harvey Oswald kept when he was in the Soviet Union. Trigilio notes, “This is the type of work that I’m really interested in right now—the historical poem. I’m also interested in working with appropriation and found language, and so this book really encompasses some of my happiest artistic fixations.”

Trigilio brings his intense curiosity and passion for poetry into the classroom. “In terms of my artistic work,” he says “my interest in appropriation led me to teach a craft seminar on appropriative poetics. I thought, ‘This is something I’m really obsessed with as a poet, so why don’t I bring it to my students and see if it will spark new work for them?’” He relishes the fact that Columbia’s poetry program embraces a variety of poetic styles and encourages experimentation and input from its practitioner-based faculty. “We have this ethos here where, as a faculty member, if you’re really immersed in a particular craft issue as a poet, then you should be teaching courses in it… then the students get you while you’re burning with that obsession.”

His students appreciate the intensity of their instructors and the variety of course offerings. “We really pride ourselves on the fact that there’s no typical poetry student in the grad program at Columbia,” Trigilio says. “We have some students who are more interested in traditional voicing, and we have others who are interested in fracturing what’s traditional— something that’s more dissonant rather than harmonious. The challenge is to make everybody’s differing aesthetic feel at home in the classroom.” As a veteran educator and established poet who deeply understands the value of diversity at Columbia, Trigilio guides his students to the realization of their very best creative work.

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