Carol Potter, MFA

Affiliate Faculty, Poetry
MFA in Creative Writing


(310) 578-1080

MFA in Poetry, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
BA in English/Journalism, certificate in Women’s Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Carol Potter (poetry) received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1982, and has taught at Indiana University, University of Redlands, UCLA Extension Writers’ program, Antioch University, Ohio State University, Champlain College, and at community colleges in California and in Massachusetts. Brought up on a dairy farm in Northwest Connecticut, Potter lives in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont.

Potter’s most recent book of poems, Otherwise Obedient (Red Hen Press, 2007) was a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards 2008 for LGBT poetry. Her third book of poems Short History of Pets won the 1999 Cleveland State Poetry Center Award, and the Balcones Award. Previous books are Upside Down in the Dark, 1995, and Before We Were Born, 1990—both from Alice James Books. Potter’s poems have appeared in Field, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, The Women’s Review of Books and many other journals.

Of Otherwise Obedient, Ellen Bass wrote: “Again and again reading Carol Potter’s poems I think, yes, this is just how it is this tricky, tender, funny human existence. With spare, strikingly precise language, sharp insight, and laugh-out loud humor, this is a wonderful collection that had me reading poems aloud to my students, family, and friends.”

and Robin Becker: “With their unembellished surfaces, these poems excavate post-modern experience with a spare eloquence. Quotidian moments crack open, as in Translation Problems, when the speaker observes I was riding/ in the wrong coach./ I was sitting backwards/ in a foreign tongue. Loss, that hole in the world through which/ what might go does go and keeps on going occasions many poems; for ballast, speakers employ a comic timing (Party Girl Bites Guest, for example) that razors pieties…”

Potter’s poems have also appeared in many different anthologies including the 1986/1986 Anthology of Magazine Verse & Yearbook of American Poetry, and most recently, White Ink.

Awards include a Pushcart Prize in 2001 for her poem, Three Crows; The New Letters Award for Poetry in 1990, the Tom McAfee Discovery Award from The Missouri Review, and three Massachusetts Council of the Arts Awards, and the 2004 dA center for the Arts poetry award. She was also the writer in residence at the Thurber House in April of 2003. She has had residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Millay Colony for the Arts, Cummington Community of the Arts, Valparaiso in Mojacar, Spain, Villa Montalvo, and Centrum.

Finalist: Lambda Literary Awards for GLBT poetry, 2008 Otherwise Obedient
dA Center for the Arts Poetry Award, Pomona CA  2004
Writer in Residence:  The Thurber House, Columbus, Ohio   April 2003
Balcones Poetry Prize, 2000 for Short History of Pets
Pushcart Prize XXVI: Best of the Small Presses:  Three Crows
Cleveland State University Poetry Center Poetry Prize for Short History of Pets: 1999 $1,000. and publication of book
AWP Contest, Finalist for Short History of Pets: 1999
Nomination for Pushcart Prize: 1998
Centrum, Port Townsend, Washington   Writer in Residence: Jan-Feb. 1999
Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, California   Writer in Residence: Feb-March. 1999
Fundación Valparaíso, Playa Mojácar, Spain   Writer in Residence April 1999
MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire   Writer in Residence: Oct-Dec.1998
Hedgebrook, Whidbey Island, Washington Accepted for Residency: Nov. 1998
Massachusetts Cultural Council, Professional Development Award: 1999
Massachusetts Cultural Council Award, Finalist 1998
The New Millennium Awards:  Honorable Mention   1996
The New England Writers Contest:  Honorable Mention  1996
Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York   Writer in Residence:  January, 1995
New Letters Literary Awards: First Place, Poetry   1990  New Letters, University of Missouri, Kansas City
The Chester H. Jones Foundation National Poetry Competition: Honorable Mention, 1990  Chardon, Ohio
The Massachusetts Artists Foundation: Finalist  1986
The Massachusetts Artists Foundation:  Finalist: 1985
The Tom McAfee Discovery Award  from The Missouri Review:  1984
Millay Colony for the Arts, Austerlitz, New York   Writer in Residence:  July 1983
The Cummington Community of the Arts,  Writer in Residence, , August 1981
The Joseph Langland Poetry Award:  Honorable Mention, University of Massachusetts, Amherst: 1981
Faculty Union Graduate Scholarship, University of Massachusetts, Amherst:  1981
University Scholarship, 1979  University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Otherwise Obedient
, Red Hen Press, October 2007
Short History of Pets*, Cleveland State  University Poetry Center Press   Fall, 2000
*Winner of the 1999 CSU Poetry Center Prize, and the 2001 Balcones Award for Poetry
Upside Down in the Dark    Alice James Books, April 1995 University of Maine, Farmington
Before We Were Born Alice James Books, April 1990, University of Maine, Farmington Poems in Journals:
Field: Auction (forthcoming)
Red-Headed Step Child:  Zuchini  Fall 2009
The Journal: the F word, Fall 2008
The Fourth Quarter: Poems About Retirement, and Beyond: Comfort Zone
Prairie Schooner:  It Goes
The New Review of Literature: Where She Came From,  Spring 2007
Gay & Lesbian Review, “Many Limbs Later”, November 2006
Agni, on-line:  Once in an Insurance Company in Boston, Summer 2006
The Journal: the F word, Cartographer of the Most Serene Republic, Fort Whatever it Takes, Spring, 2006
Field:  Sticky Fingers, I Would Be Smoking,  Spring 2006
Poetry Miscellany:  Green Felt Gowns
Arts & Letters:  DNA, Spring 2006

  • Women & Lit
  • GLBT Literature
  • Multi-genre Creative Writing
  • Composition
  • Intro to Literature

As a teacher, I first look for what the student does best; locate the strength in the poem, the heart and lungs and legs of the poem, and if it seems hobbled, I will make suggestions about possible ways in which to free it.  We will work towards mastering craft, and then going beyond it–accessing as Ed Hirsh calls it “duende”, the raw, the ragged. Craft must be learned, but without heart, soul, and shadow all is lost. I believe there is an absolute bottom line, a real difference between mediocre and superb, good and bad.  Either the cup holds water, or it doesn’t.  Either the bicycle has wheels, or it hasn’t.   Ergo, craft has to be learned, but it is not all.  There are many wonderful, skilled poets in the world yet far too many banal poems. Beautiful packages, but nothing inside them.  My goal is to help students find the best way to craft the poem, but even more, to access the raw material, to allow the wild in the poem, to make surprises, but not with gimmicks. Hence, no gimmicks, many surprises. How to find them?  I encourage associative building of the poems; to allow the unexpected to happen.  Some workshop exercises are possibly in store, depending on student inclinations, depending on how much and where it seems necessary to shake the collective’s sensibilities.  I will also suggest readings of specific poets, and journals that will offer other ways to approach the material. How to do this?   Planned surprises, found poems, exercises in workshop to see just what the first impulse might be for each student. Sometimes we need to be rocketed out of our own habits, and try new approaches.

I encourage flexibility, new vision for the poem when necessary, and re-vision, revision. Sometimes it’s important to come back to the poem from another direction, in another person, another day.  Put the poem away.  Sometimes leave the material for another time. I encourage students to disown their own poems when revising.  We have to be able to see the work with a cool, level eye and to edit our own work as if we were strangers to it.   One must let go of what one meant to say, and allow the poem to take its own life.  We do this in dreams.  One image hooks onto another. It is the truth of these linkages that persuades me.  I encourage students to trust this. To trust their own footsteps; and let the poem happen.  I believe there are only a few stories: love, loss, death, rebirth, and the stories have been told.  Hence it is not the story, but how it is told, sung, spun. The sound of the poem is of utmost importance.  We need the music of words, the delight of sound.  I like poems that spring, that are wound tight, that click one line into the next with the surety of a bike derailleur in good tune.  I expect the poem to lift my scalp, to make me feel, as Dickinson said, as if the top of my head were lifted.  I want to be riveted, to be scared, happy, to feel something, and most of all to be in the presence of the mystery at the heart of the poem. No mystery.   No magic. No poem.  I want the poems to want to be written, to need to be written, and that the poem be allowed to take on its own life.  I am not in favor of agendas, Anybody’s Rules of Order, or any sort of preconceived notion about where the poem ought to go.

I encourage as Keats says, “negative capability.”  The space between the words, the blank on the canvas, the red inside the red. I want the poem to speak to me, but not lecture.  I want the poem to instruct me, but not in anything I can use.  I want the poem to need to be written, and to have its own need. Each person comes with his or her own sensibilities, and each poem bears the thumb print of the individual.  I respect the individual style, inclination, drive of each poet. My own inclinations are toward conciseness, compression, humor, oddity, sharpness, and as David Walker says, “daffy logic” and “the spirit of attentiveness to the world’s variety”  —however that is achieved.  I am open to any form, any style.  I ask my students to be prepared to take chances, to ask questions, to be baffled, to get stuck, and to enjoy whatever problems arise as they are often the stuff of the next great work.