Spotlight: Poetic professor Corey Marks

Spotlight: Poetic professor Corey Marks

Spotlight: Poetic professor Corey Marks
February 05
00:11 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Corey Marks’ future as a poet was already written when he was a child.

Growing up in rural Michigan, Marks lived in a little house surrounded by orchards and cornfields, isolated from the hustle and bustle of city life. Both of his parents were teachers who filled their home with books. This allowed Marks to explore a world beyond the woods that existed in his backyard.

“I fell in love with language and with the idea of using words to not only convey ideas, but also to make music, which is, I think, what drew me ultimately to poetry,” Marks said. “Poetry is a place where an intensity of music and an intensity of vision and an intensity of imagination all come together.”

His early start helped pave the way for a successful career in poetry, receiving several awards for his poems and gaining a strong reputation among his colleagues.

“I cannot imagine someone who is more qualified as a poet, critic, teacher, editor and listener,” said Bruce Bond, creative writing professor and poetry editor at the American Literary Review, a position he shares with Marks.

As a poet

Marks’ pursuit of poetry began at Kalamazoo College where he received his bachelor’s degree in English in 1992. He then moved to Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, graduating with a master’s degree in creative writing two years later. In 2000, he completed his studies with a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature at the University of Houston. He described his professors there as the best poetry faculty in the country.

That same year, Marks’ collection of poems, “Renunciation,” was published after he received the highly acclaimed National Poetry Series award in 1999. Marks continued to release poems in journals and anthologies, and in 2011, he won the Green Rose Prize from New Issues Press for his second book, “The Radio Tree.”

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English professor Cory Marks won awards for “Renunciation” and “The Radio Tree.” The two books sit inside his office on campus. 

Since then, Marks said he has been writing several new poems, some of which he will present at a literary reading with English professor Miroslav Penkov Friday night at UNT on the Square. Although he might revisit his older poems, Marks said he is looking forward to focusing on his more recent work.

“It’ll be exciting to have a stack of new poems that I really haven’t read very often before to bring up to the stage,” he said.

As a professor

When he isn’t in the literary limelight, Marks serves as the director of creative writing for the department of English at UNT, a position he has held since 2005. His responsibilities include shaping the creative writing program at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Marks is also a judge for the UNT Rilke Prize, created to recognize mid-career poets through a $10,000 award. American poet Mark Wunderlich received this year’s Rilke Prize for his book “The Earth Avails” this past Tuesday.

Marks considers his jobs as director and judge vital to his involvement at the university.

“I see that creative work constantly in conversation with these other tasks that are part of my life here that have to do with editing the magazine, with overseeing the book prize, and especially with teaching, which is an opportunity for me to talk about poetry day in and day out,” Marks said. “[It] also challenges me and makes me a better writer, just as writing ultimately makes me a better teacher of poetry.”

English professor Alex Pettit, who has known Marks for more than 15 years, said while his intellect and talent help him stand out as a poet, Marks’ professionalism, wit and kindness make him a respected co-worker and professor in the department.

“Almost daily I encounter students who praise his teaching in the strongest terms,” Pettit said. “Indeed, I am aware of no teacher in our department who is more widely or handsomely praised by his or her students.”

One of these students is Chelsea Wagenaar, a Ph.D. senior in English with a concentration in creative writing and poetry. Marks was her professor for two poetry workshops, an independent study and also serves as chair of her dissertation committee.

Wagenaar said she learned a great deal from Marks, who would often ask questions that prompted her to think about a subject for days until she could arrive at an answer. She said he makes his classroom a space where students feel both comfortable and challenged.

“He spends a good deal of time thinking about each poem and its needs and possibilities,” Wagenaar said. “He is able to foster and mediate a conversation that helps students see strengths and weaknesses in their work while also giving them concrete suggestions for revision and improvement.”

As a person

At the end of the day, Marks said he is a regular man.

He loves puns and enjoys the cold weather. Outside of writing, Marks prefers to spend his time concocting fine cuisine of his own design.

“I probably spend way too much time thinking about food,” he said. “I love to cook. It’s a quicker creative undertaking that actually gives immediate contact with the community.”

Marks is also a family man who dotes on his wife and child. With an English professor for a father and an English teacher for a mother, Marks said his daughter, who recently turned 12 years old, also has a fondness for reading.

Just like her father grew up in a house filled with books, she seems to be doing the same.

“It runs in the family,” Marks said.

Featured Image: English professor Corey Marks. Photos by Adriana Salazar – Staff Photographer

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