Magnetic Poetic
The anonymous musings of students as they appeared on Magnetic Poetic
Magnetic Poetic
The anonymous musings of students as they appeared on Magnetic Poetic

An Ode to the Poem

by Kara Sokol

Michigan Tech gets magnetic


Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and author Robert Penn Warren famously said: “How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.”

If you’re like the majority of people, poetry is probably not a part of your life. In a time when magazines, blogs, and text messages seem to dominate our daily literary landscape, poetry is often seen as passé, a style of writing not worth studying outside of textbooks and classrooms.

That’s a problem, says Matt Seigel, assistant professor of creative writing and founding editor of [PANK], Michigan Tech’s literary magazine. According to Seigel, there’s a real need for students—especially those at a technological university—to engage with the arts.

So he discovered the best way to poetically inspire engineers and scientists: make it hands-on.

April is National Poetry Month, and [PANK] and the Literary Arts Collective of Michigan Tech featured a weeklong array of events: open mic readings, a feature screening of Howl (about the works of beat poet Allen Ginsburg), readings by poets Samiya Bashir and Jamaal May, and more.

This year, however, they also searched for a way to make poetry more accessible and engaging.

“We wanted to get students to actually work with poetry—write it, read it—rather than avoid and fear it,” Seigel says. “That’s how Magnetic Poetic was born.”

Magnetic Poetic, a display featuring metal boards and thousands of magnetic words, was unveiled in the lobby of the J. R. Van Pelt and John and Ruann Opie Library. Students were encouraged to ponder, play, observe the impromptu poetry of others, and create their own.

They participated to the tune of a hundred or more per day, omitting words, adding verses, and changing meanings. The result? Creations ranging from edgy and avant-garde to silly, scientific, playful, and political, all grown directly from the lives of Michigan Tech students.

“I think it reminded our students that there are different ways of knowing and making meaning in the world,” Seigel says. “And it showed that there’s more going on here at Michigan Tech than meets the eye.”