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English Alumna Says Hofstra Granted Her “Poetic License”

Christie Ann Reynolds ’05 thought her love of literature and creative writing would take her to college far away from her childhood home in Suffolk County, New York. But after graduating from high school early, she settled into a community of creative thinkers and nurturing faculty at Hofstra University. In 2003 Hofstra alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn selected her as the recipient of the Academy of American Poets undergraduate poetry award. In 2012 she saw the publication of her first full-length collection of poetry, Revenge for Revenge, and also was named a Poets & Writers Amy Award winner. She remains devoted to writing and to her students at the Metropolitan Montessori School in Manhattan, where – in addition to teaching writing and grammar – this young Renaissance woman is also the science coordinator. 

How did you come to attend Hofstra? In what academic departments and extracurricular activities were you active?

I grew up in Middle Island on the east end of Long Island. I always dreamed of attending college on the west coast. However, when the opportunity to graduate high school early arose, I decided to look at local colleges that would allow me to take a few core classes. After visiting a number of schools, Hofstra University was the one that felt the most “far away” but still nearby.

I started as a freshman in January of 2001. I knew I wanted to pursue poetry, and at first, felt like I was the only one in a sea of business majors. This all changed very quickly at the beginning of my sophomore year when I took a literature class with Dr. [Ronald] Janssen, a poetry class with Phillis Levin and “Ethnographic Film” with Marcelo Fiorni. I immediately connected with students I met in those courses.

I happened to meet another student, Julie Booth, who was a Creative Writing major, shared my birthday and was a member of Alpha Phi sorority. I quickly became close with a number of the young women of Alpha Phi and decided to join. I also became a resident assistant in Suffolk Hall. Becoming an RA was crucial to my experience at Hofstra – the staff was so diverse and talented, and I was forever changed by what I learned from their lives, religions and interests.

Was writing always an interest of yours? For how many years have you been writing poetry and are there any particular themes or issues you particularly like to focus on?

I was always reading. My mom would drop me off at the Longwood Public library, and I would gather all the books I wanted to read, sit in a bean bag chair on the upstairs level and stay until she picked me up before dinner. Then, I would read in my closet behind my hanging clothes. Reading definitely led me to writing. I’d like to think I’m a poet because I spent so much time outside, just observing things in nature, being in my head and walking in the woods. I spent a lot of time in constant motion when I was young—swimming, riding my bike, climbing trees and playing video games. Now, I can see these things as meditative, or as a way for me to be still in my mind while being active. I do my best writing sitting in a very busy coffee shop, or while listening to the same song on repeat for hours.

It never occurred to me that the writing I was doing independently in my notebooks was strictly poetry until I took a college credit creative writing course in high school and realized that I really disliked the attention to plot and narrative that was crucial to writing stories. I thought I had been writing stories, or sketches for stories, but they were really poems. It took me many years to accept this idea. At the time, I had no idea that poetry was being written by anyone but Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss or Robert Frost. I needed permission to be a poet, and didn’t get that until Hofstra.

I’m a friendly, social and extroverted person, but my poetry is a place where the introverted me, the anti-social and angry “Me” can live. I often can’t help what happens on the page. I go into meditative periods where the poems sort of write themselves and most the work on the poems is completed during the editing process. It is the unwieldy possibilities of what might happen in the writing of a poem, or what collected unconscious feelings may appear that makes my writing feel somewhat uncontrollable. If I don’t write for a few weeks, I feel anxious, annoyed, unsettled. In a small group meeting with Louise Gluck at Hofstra, I asked her about her process and whether or not she wrote everyday. She said, “Do whatever kills the anxiety.” It was the best piece of advice I’ve ever received.

Revenge for RevengeWhat do you hope readers will learn about you and possibly themselves by reading Revenge for Revenge, your first published full collection of poetry?

I’d like to think that the idea of “revenge for revenge” causes a canceling out of revenge – a submission into the emotion and love one must feel for an object or a person to want to seek revenge in the first place. True love is the root of revenge. Hatred is also a root of revenge. But there is still passion and ambition in both of those things. Revenge is an honest feeling and one that no human can deny feeling at some point, whether it is in the form of jealousy or in the simple, silly act of wanting to throw a snowball back at the person who threw one at you when you weren’t looking.

In the book, the poems value sadness and the explosive emotion responsible for the wanting of revenge. I have often wanted revenge or reconciliation, to seek penance for moments in my life that felt unfinished or incomplete and the revenge necessary for the acquisition of love. But that is not the reality of love. That is what this book explores – the reality of love and the reality of loss.

What do you enjoy about teaching English and writing to young people? Do you think writing creatively is a skill that is becoming lost in this age of texting and Facebook posts?

I feel that students are writing more creatively these days, but they do not think critically about why they are doing so. I remember having to handwrite everything and then what it felt like to type it up on the computer; to make it final and permanent. Today’s students are typing everything. There is already so much finality in a Facebook post—you literally can’t get rid of things that end up online. Therefore, I don’t think students aren’t creative. I just think our definition of what is creative writing and what isn’t is changing. Students always say, “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t know how to start.” Yet they don’t think twice about a Facebook or Twitter post. I enjoy getting them to discover that automaticity outside of the electronic world. I enjoy encouraging them to find that they are didactic. That impermanence can also be thoughtful and sincere. The very fact that our lexicon and our dictionaries now include words like “bling” “lol” and “omg” show that young people are very responsible for the ways in which language is forced to accept and change. I want my students to take ownership of this.

What advice would you offer English and creative writing students today who also dream of publishing their work?

Students today should make sure that they are always reading and that they are always thinking about writing, even when they aren’t. In graduate school I noticed everyone was wary of not being defined as a “political poet” or a “women’s poet” or a “funny poet.” I think that if your work is leading you to a specific place, you need to go there. I’ve realized we aren’t as subjected to “typecasting” and one book about revenge or love can easy segue to a book about humor, or – I don’t know – sailing or planets or something. You can be a different kind of poet in each book and you have to embrace flexibility, to see each poem or story or project as a place to inhabit another self.

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