Student Spotlight: A Poet Whose Work Addresses Anti-Blackness and Violence Explains Why He ‘Always Wanted to Go to the Graduate Center’

Benjamin Krusling (Photo courtesy of Krusling)

Benjamin Krusling recently published his first book of poetry, Glaring, which was awarded a 2019 Open Reading Period Book Prize. The work combines new material with previously published poems, including his 2018 chapbook, GRAPES, and explores themes of “anti-blackness, militarism, surveillance, impoverishment, and interpersonal abuse and violence,” as described by the publisher. Krusling received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded an Iowa Arts Fellowship and a postgraduate Provost’s Visiting Writer fellowship. This fall, he is entering the Graduate Center to pursue a Ph.D. in English.

Krusling spoke to the Graduate Center about his poetry and why the Graduate Center is the right academic home for his doctoral studies.

Graduate Center: One of the comments about your book, Glaring, said, “The power of Ben’s work is so undeniable, it's confusing to think about its singularity, which is a hint that it is from the future.” What do you think she means?

Krusling: I've always tried to approach writing in kind of an interdisciplinary way. There are certain kinds of inflections on the writing stylistically that I think come from other media, music, or from techniques of film or something like that. They’re also from the experience of how language appears on the internet and fractured verse and streaming and things of that nature. I’ve always felt constrained by very formal forms. The question of form has been interesting to me and my book plays with a lot of different forms and gestures of language.

GC: In an interview about Glaring and your poetry, you said that you're trying to deal with violence in an ethical way.

Krusling: I've been rethinking what I said about that. There's a certain kind of discourse of grief that poetry seems particularly well suited or mobilized for. And I began to feel discomfort with that and feel that there was something kind of rote, or repetitive about the way grief is handled in a lot of poetry. I wanted to write poetry that was politically engaged, about questions of power, but to also do that in a way that was not making use of violence for my own purposes. Maybe that's the question of ethics. 

GC: Were you influenced by the murder of George Floyd and racial violence, or is it a more personal re-thinking?

Krusling: Things that happen at home are connected structurally to what's happening in the world and society and so these forms of violence and the structures of domination that structure our world structure our homes and structure our relationships, too. How does my interpersonal experience of violence, for example, interact with these global or national experiences? Of course, that has a big racialized dimension. 

GC: What drew you to get a doctorate at the Graduate Center?

Krusling: It came out of doing my M.F.A. and really immersing myself in literature and poetry in a way that I hadn't had the time or opportunity to before. And as I did that, starting to develop questions that poetry couldn't sufficiently address. I've heard poets say that poetry is the way they enter into a problem, and then critical writing or scholarship is a way to look at the problem.  

I'm really looking forward to, on the one hand just immersing myself in a different kind of thinking and also being able to develop my own arguments around literature, around forms of avant-garde and political writing.

GC: You have mentioned interdisciplinarity. Is that one of the things that attracted you to the Graduate Center?

Krusling: I always wanted to go to the Graduate Center. I know and love a lot of people who have gone, brilliant people whom I admire and who seem to share a particular kind of eye toward literature that I feel attracted to. What was important to me, too, was to feel that I was in a program that would still enable me to make poetry essential practice. I know so many people in the Graduate Center are themselves actively poets or writers working in ways that aren't just scholarship and critical writing. They're blending those things in interesting ways and that seemed like a really good fit. There's a lot of people I’m excited to work with, including Professors Amber Musser (English) and Kandice Chuh (English). 

I taught undergraduates for two years at Iowa and I found it very rewarding. CUNY has a rich history of people thinking creatively about pedagogy. That's something I'm excited to think more about.

GC: Will you continue to write poetry along with other forms?

Krusling: I think poetry is a form of a home. With poetry I move into the world and through it. It's kind of melded with the process of thinking for me in such a way that I can't imagine not doing it because it's so similar to thinking for me and feeling, too. 

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: AUG 19, 2021

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