Background & writing
Diana Goetsch is an American poet, author of eight collections, including In America (a 2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize selection), Nameless Boy (2015, Orchises Press) and The Job of Being Everybody, which won the 2004 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition. Her poems have appeared in leading magazines and anthologies including The New Yorker, Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review and Best American Poetry. She is also a nonfiction writer and columnist, author of essays on subjects ranging from baseball history to medical ethics to political messaging. From 2015-16 she wrote the “Life in Transition” blog at The American Scholar, where she chronicled her gender transition, along with issues faced by America’s newest visible minority. Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Donald Murray Prize for writing pedagogy, and a Pushcart Prize.
Diana Goetsch was born Douglas Goetsch in Brooklyn, NY and grew up in Northport, Long Island, where she graduated high school. She attended Wesleyan University (BA, Religion), New York University (MA, American Civilization) and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA, Poetry). For 21 years she was a New York City public school teacher, at Stuyvesant High School, where she taught gifted and mostly immigrant children, and at Passages Academy in the Bronx, where she ran a creative writing program for incarcerated teens. In 2001, she founded Jane Street Press, a unique, zero-profit press dedicated to publishing undiscovered masters of American Poetry. She has trained and performed as a concert jazz dancer, practices meditation daily, and is an authorized meditation instructor in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of Reggie Ray and Chogyam Trungpa.
Goetsch’s poetry has been praised for its warmth, range and daring. Dick Allen called her writing “searing, honest, vivid, moving, unflinching” and B.H. Fairchild calls her “one of the most comically serious, hip poets we have.” She is interested, as she says in a recent interview, in every subject under the sun: love, sports, politics, childhood, gender, education, incarceration, spirituality, and pop music. Goetsch has been cited as one of the few white poets willing to write on the subject of race in America; her prize-winning poem “Black People Can’t Swim” was featured in Tony Hoagland’s essay “Going Crosstown: Four Poems About Race by White People.”
Diana is known as a generous and innovative writing teacher, who has taught in just about every imaginable locale—schools, libraries, AIDS centers, juvenile jails, Buddhist retreat spaces, art colonies, and dozens of conferences, including the Iowa Summer Writing Conference, where she’s been on faculty for 16 years. She has taught at colleges and in MFA programs, including the University of Central Oklahoma, where she was Artist-in-Residence for two years, and helped inaugurate the first creative writing MFA in the history of that state, and Western Kentucky University, where she served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing. Currently she is the Grace Paley Teaching Fellow in the First-Year Writing Program at The New School in New York City.
The Free-Writing Intensive
In 2007 Diana began offering a workshop called The Free-Writing Intensive at The Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The workshop targeted a fundamental skill that nearly every writer relies on—how to fill a blank page—yet is seldom taught, let alone trained in, with any precision. Most writers write a first draft the same way every time, regardless of the subject, falling into habitual patterns, which they often mistake for their “voice.” As a result, the sparks of fresh ideas are soon doused, and the vast majority of poems, essays and stories die, long before they ever show up in a workshop, or get submitted for publication.
Simply put, free-writing is the act of surprising ourselves on the page. Diana set about designing a corpus of counter-intuitive (and often delightful) protocols to get beneath habitual patterns and limiting belief systems, changing the “DNA” of how we write. Undiscovered possibilities become available, and free-writing can take its place as the composing tool sin qua non for any writer, training in any genre, and the best antidote there is to writer’s block.
In other art forms, such as dance or music, practitioners train their way out of ego habits, and they can train hard because they are fueled by love (especially in the beginning). Because these activities are intrinsically enjoyable, we never meet a dancer who aspires to have danced, or a painter who yearns to have painted, yet MFA writing programs are filled with people who want to have written. Diana is one of the only teachers looking at, not what students have written, but how they go about the act of writing, to help them be in relationship with their creativity. The only thing truly worth the work is the work. Dancers dance, painters paint, writers write.
The Free-Writing Intensive has struck a nerve. Often in the workshop, a certain quality of engagement comes over people while practicing, a kind of spell is cast, and when they come out of that experience, and read back what they wrote, and they’re stunned and surprised by what came out of their pens. “I was quite taken, moved, and frequently overwhelmed by the whole experience,” said one participant. “It’s messy. It’s intense. It’s difficult. But it’s the truest writing I’ve ever done. And it made me feel alive,” said another.
Over the past ten years, Diana has offered The Free-Writing Intensive at writing conferences and in living rooms throughout the United States. Nowadays, when people contact her asking if she has plans to teach in their region, her standard response is, “Get ten people and a living room, and I’ll get on a plane.” This is exactly what happened in Berkeley and San Luis Obispo, CA, Tarrytown and Nanuet, NY, Wilmington, DE, Rockville, MD, Port Republic, NJ, New Hampshire, and elsewhere. (Sometimes she only had to hop on Amtrak.)