Sonic Youth Guitarist Thurston Moore Teaches a Poetry Workshop at Naropa University: See His Class Notes (2011)


It’s not unusu­al for intro­spec­tive indie song­writ­ers to make for­ays into poet­ry. Some do it rather suc­cess­ful­ly, like Sil­ver Jews’ Dave Berman; some, like Will Old­ham, stir up the poet­ry world by turn­ing against poet­ry. Then there are indie stars like the inde­fati­ga­bly youth­ful Thurston Moore—for­mer­ly of Son­ic Youth, cur­rent­ly of Chelsea Light Mov­ing—who was asked to teach at the Jack Ker­ouac School of Dis­em­bod­ied Poet­ics at Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty. Bet­ter known for his numer­ous ven­tures in the New York exper­i­men­tal art world, Moore led a three-day poet­ry work­shop at the Boul­der, Col­orado school’s sum­mer writ­ing pro­gram in 2011.

Moore was very much in demand. Anne Wald­man, co-founder of Naropa’s writ­ing pro­gram with Allen Gins­berg, said at the time, “We’ve been try­ing to get him for a while. We need him.” (Poet­ry teacher Ken­neth Gold­smith recalls that the only one who was­n’t impressed with Moore was the recent­ly depart­ed Amiri Bara­ka, who said “he needs to work on those poems.”) Thanks to some very chat­ty stu­dents, we have detailed descrip­tions of Moore’s teach­ing style, as well as scans of his class notes. See the first page of Moore’s notes to him­self for “Poet­ry / Music Work­shop #1” at the top and a tran­scrip­tion of his ellip­ti­cal, idio­syn­crat­ic method below:

Teacher impro­vis­es on elec­tric
gui­tar while
     stu­dents write sin­gle words
each to his/her own sense of
     space and Rhythm and evo­ca­tion
For 4 min­utes
     the gui­tar is record­ed on
        cas­sette recorder
       or com­put­er
Record­ed music played back
      through amp. while stu­dents
   Read aloud their writ­ing
Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, All record­ed
by cas­sette rec’r or comp.



Stu­dent Katie Ingeg­neri, who inter­viewed Moore, brings us the page of text as well as the video above of Moore read­ing at Naropa. Accord­ing to anoth­er one of Moore’s for­mer stu­dents with the unlike­ly name Thorin Klosows­ki, the first day of the work­shop con­sist­ed of a “ram­bling, three-hour intro­duc­tion” dur­ing which Moore “revealed that when he ini­tial­ly moved to New York in the ’70s, it was not to make music, but rather to be a writer.” Klosowski’s piece includes addi­tion­al pages of Moore’s notes, like that above, which cites coun­ter­cul­tur­al hero Emmett Gro­gan’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Ringole­vio. Klosows­ki tells us that once things loos­ened up, Moore “did a bet­ter job of teach­ing than when he was pre­tend­ing to be a lec­tur­er.” The work­shop also includ­ed some “gos­sipy tid­bits”:

For instance, did you now that Kim Gor­don had a tex­ting rela­tion­ship with James Fran­co? That Stephen Malk­mus hates slam poet­ry? Or that even after years of being out of print, Moore’s list of ten essen­tial free jazz records he wrote for Grand Royale was still brought into record stores (Twist & Shout and Wax Trax includ­ed)?

Moore had vis­it­ed Naropa once before. In 2006 at a ben­e­fit for Bur­ma Life and La Casa de la Esper­an­za, he read from his books Alaba­ma Wild­man, What I Like About Fem­i­nism, and Nice War and played some songs from Son­ic Youth’s Rather Ripped. Hear the audio of that event above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fear of a Female Plan­et: Kim Gor­don (Son­ic Youth) on Why Rus­sia and the US Need a Pussy Riot

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

“Expan­sive Poet­ics” by Allen Gins­berg: A Free Course from 1981 

William S. Bur­roughs’ Short Class on Cre­ative Read­ing 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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