July 6, 2010

The Future of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

A Letter re the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics via Anne Waldman & Lisa Birman.

This comes from Lisa and Anne themselves. Hope this helps clarify things while Naropa University goes through a tough time of loss and budget cuts with, it’s to be hoped and expected, good judgement and as much dignity and care as possible.

For a passionate, caring students’ perspective on the situation, and more letters than the below, and much more information and some conjecture, click over to “Save the Jack Kerouac School,” click here or here. ~ ed.


“And while I’m here I’ll do the work.  And what’s the work? To ease the pain of living — everything else, drunken dumbshow”  – Allen Ginsberg

“The ground of imagination is fearless” -Diane di Prima

Naropa University

Department of the Summer Writing Program

Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

2130 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO  80302

ph: 303. 546. 5296  fax: 303. 546. 5287

lisab at naropa dotedu

July 2, 2010

Dear Community & Friends of the Jack Kerouac School:

Lisa Birman and I are writing to you from the Summer Writing Program Office.  We know that the Naropa environment has suffered because of the recent downsizing of Naropa staff  at large. 23 staff members, though no one from Summer Writing Program or Writing & Poetics, were laid off in June. The community has suffered tremendously as these individuals were part of our world and community. We all have questions and concerns. Our hearts and support go out to those individuals.

However, there are some clearer answers now, and we are more than willing to address your grievances as much as we can.  Students are gathering these days to address and protest their concerns, which center on issues of transparency, student involvement in university-wide decisions, diversity issues, and the well being of the campus and all who are engaged here.  We are all going through this process together and we support this deep engagement on the part of the students.  We acknowledge the financial sacrifice and contributions our students make to this environment. They have prepared a respectful statement of concerns. We are urging them to be accurate and to check facts and details.

We know that the Higher Learning Commission (which grants accreditation) in a visit to the University has made strong critiques and recommendations concerning the way Naropa works with its budget.  The situation as it has been is not sustainable for a school this size. A group of university-wide faculty (FEWG) has been working to make proposals concerning a re-structuring of the school that would not go into effect most likely until the fall of 2012. One of the proposed models is that the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics would hold all its wings together (MFA, Low-residency MFA, BA, Summer Writing Program and Writing Center, Print Shop). We think that is likely. We have been told in a meeting with the Office of Academic Affairs yesterday (July 1) that the Summer Writing Program 2011 will retain its current structure, although there will be some budget cuts.

There also appears to be some misunderstandings about the current structure of the Kerouac School. In its current incarnation, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics consists of two departments: The Department of Writing and Poetics (which houses the MFA in W&P, the Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing, and the BA in Writing and Literature) and the Department of the Summer Writing Program. The Kerouac School also has various other responsibilities and interests, such as the Kavyayantra Printshop (primarily under the purview of W&P), and the Audio Archive (the content of which is primarily SWP events and classes). Under the proposed new structure, both W&P and SWP would stay under the umbrella of the Kerouac School, possibly joined by the Naropa Writing Center.

One of the problems, as we see it, has been a silence around the layoffs, although there have been some “healing circles” and meditation sessions. It seems there are legal issues of confidentiality.  And we are trying to understand those implications ourselves.  The uncertainly of Naropa’s future has also been a huge issue, we are both feeling more confident now as we ourselves seek answers from the NU Administration.  The school has always been a ground of struggle and sacrifice. I have been here every summer since 1974, and Lisa — an MFA graduate — has been in her role 10 years!  We can certainly attest to the upheavals of the past.

But we want you to know that The Kerouac School community has been sharing a terrific pedagogical and creative summer together; every panel, lecture, reading, and discussion has been of the highest quality — all of us have been present. The caliber of student work —  readings, panels, and discourse — is excellent.  The guest faculty have been stellar, their engagement, as well, is incredibly inspiring. We have a week to go, which will highlight themes of performance, collaboration, and small press publishing.  Our protest is part of our practice.

We want you to know that we are here, that we support and acknowledge our students, that we are up and running, and that the SWP staff, Reed Bye, Interim Chair of the W&P Department, and Naropa administrative staff and trustees are willing to meet with students to clarify and listen to concerns. We are part of a larger world and culture that is going through tremendous change, paradigm shifts of all kinds. We will all have to do with less and continue to cultivate our empathy and compassion and our artistic paths. We exist amidst huge waves of suffering as the oil spill continues to gush and harm many sentient beings and the vegetal world, as war rages, as financial cuts are made that affect everyone.  It is our duty to stay awake and to provide feedback in our own communities. The writing community here at Naropa has always been an activist one, and a spiritual one. We honor this lineage.

With gratitude and respect,

Anne Waldman                                                Lisa Birman

Co-founder, KSDP                                                Director, SWP

Chair, Artistic Dir, SWP                                    Faculty, Low-Res MFA

Core Faculty, W&P

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