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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