Kyle Dargan: a poet (and professor) for the people

Professor Kyle Dargan, pictured here sitting in his office, is an accomplished poet and creative writing professor at American University. (Photo by Lauren Patetta)

By Lauren Patetta

WASHINGTON – Sitting in his office at American University, professor Kyle Dargan devotes the first free moment he’s had all week to watching the news on his desktop computer. It’s no surprise, given that the door to his office is almost entirely plastered with articles from the Washington Post.

“There was a period when every other day it felt like there was a brown person getting shot by the police,” said Dargan. “Putting up the newspapers was a way of not allowing people to avoid that.”

Dargan said his identity as a black man in America inspired his own writing, predominantly poetry. His fifth and most recent published poetry collection, “Anagnorisis,” was written predominantly in response to a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Black Lives Matter movement – another way of forcing people to confront these issues. The poems tackle a variety of topics, from police brutality to personal identity, but Dargan was adamant that his poems are not directly about these topics. For that, he said, someone can read a newspaper.

“I don’t write about issues,” Dargan said. “If you come into a poem, you want to experience something, and part of that needs grounding in your own senses.”

It was an after-school poetry club that introduced Dargan to the idea that poetry did not solely exist for scholarly, in-class analysis. The club instilled a love of writing in him, and once his skill in poetry grew, friends at school started asking him if he would write love letters on their behalf.

Dargan also frequently wrote poetry about his adolescent years in Newark, New Jersey. Eventually, his passion for the subject lead to him publishing his first poetry collection, “The Listening,” while attending graduate school.

Today, he writes poetry as a way to provide deeper access to his own life. In the era of social media, Dargan said people often lack in-depth understanding of others’ lives, because they only see surface-level posts on Instagram.

“(Poetry) is not just another snapshot with a filter,” said Dargan. “It’s the opposite. Poetry isn’t a filter; poetry is the thing that opens the picture and shows you what’s underneath it.”

Though Dargan initially came to American to study arts management, he was quickly asked to fill a temporary position teaching a poetry writing workshop class – a position that turned into a full-time job. Now, he teaches creative writing as an associate professor for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Tess Herdman, a sophomore at American, took Dargan’s entry-level creative writing class, which introduced students to a variety of genres. She loved the discussion that Dargan fostered in the classroom, and said his methods of teaching were often unique, yet incredibly effective.

“He had us, like, peer edit one of his pieces without telling us it was his piece,” Herdman said. “(It) was very interesting but very nice of him to let us critique his work.”

Dargan’s favorite part of teaching, he said, is working with students, so he tries to make education as engaging as possible. By teaching a variety of classes at different skill levels, Dargan gets to watch students grow and develop their unique writing styles. He said the ability to make a tangible impact on students encourages him to continue teaching.

According to Professor David Pike, the chair of the literature department at American, Dargan instituted a track program within the literature major that allowed students to choose an aspect of literature – such as creative writing – to focus on. This helped students get more specialized training in subjects of particular interest to them.

“One of the things you do with a creative writing degree is you work on your creative writing,” said Pike. “Another thing you do is train yourself for a job afterward.”

Outside of work, Pike noticed that Dargan spends a lot of his time giving back to those around him.

“He’s one of our colleagues who’s most involved in the community,” said Pike. “He works a lot especially with local high school groups.” 

Even for students who have not attended his classes, Dargan has left an impression.

“I don’t read a lot of work of his style, so I definitely thought (“Anagnorisis”) was unique,” said Jessy Cashman, an American student. “I really like how it tied into D.C.; I thought that was pretty cool.”

Now, Dargan has less time to work on poetry than in the past. With a young daughter and a full-time job, he is often quite busy. However, he is currently working on a short story and a collection of essays to experiment with other areas of creative writing outside of poetry.

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