Suzanne Buffam

Suzanne Buffam
Associate Professor of Practice in the Arts
Taft 301
MFA, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa, 2000
Research Interests: Lyric Poetry, Long Poems, Hybrid Forms

Genre

Poetry

Synopsis

I am the author of three books – two collections of lyric poetry and a book-length poem in prose. What unites these books, across a range of forms and modes, is an attempt to leverage humor and irony in service of serious metaphysical inquiry. 

Writing Profile

My last book, A Pillow Book, reaches through history and across the globe to engage with the thousand-year-old Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, the earliest surviving example of the Japanese zuihitsu, a form that defies Western categories and has been described by one Western scholar as “the genre-less genre.” Drawing equally from autobiography, dreams, history, archaeology, folklore, Facebook, and contemporary culture in general, my Pillow Book is an extended investigation into privilege, motherhood, marriage, and anxiety, in the form of over one hundred short prose sections and dozens of lists. In his New York Times citation, David Orr described it as a “fearful, funny and bracingly intelligent version” of Shonagon’s original. 

My prior book, The Irrationalist, was a finalist for the 2011 Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry. Formally various—ranging from lists to sonnets to aphorisms to prose—the poems in this collection investigate the shifting grounds of knowledge while refusing to take any authority -- be it Epictetus, Therese de Lisieux, Nicolaus Copernicus, Ma Yuan, or the fugitive spectre of self, to name only a few of the volume's dramatis personae -- too seriously. At the center of this book is a series of “Little Commentaries,” 72 aphoristic poems on various topics both abstract and concrete, from “Possibility” to “Parakeets,” inspired by the Copernican insight that “there is no one center of the universe.”

My first book, Past Imperfect, was named a 2005 “Book of the Year” by The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, and won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for the best first collection of poetry published in Canada that year. 

My work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jeannette Heian Ballard Writers’ Trust, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and has appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals, most recently The New York Times, The National Post, The Walrus, and A Public Space.

Work with Students

As a teacher, I aim to approach the classroom in roughly the same spirit in which I approach the blank page. I believe a work of literature should begin from a place of genuine perplexity or impasse, and I aim to model for my students a practice of reading that approaches all literary works, however opaque or transparent they may seem at first glance, from a position of open inquiry. I have taught in a variety of contexts, from artist colonies, to online mentorships, to every level of graduate and undergraduate classroom, and have advised BA and MFA theses in a wide range of styles.

Teaching

  • The Long Poem
  • Literary Collaboration and Collage
  • Poetics in Practice
  • Generative Genres
  • Lyric Fundamentals
  • The Shape of Thought

Selected Publications

  • Past Imperfect, House of Anansi Press, 2005
  • The Irrationalist, Canarium Books / House of Anansi, 2010
  • A Pillow Book, Canarium Books / House of Anansi, 2016
Subject Area: Poetry