Alum Tyler Gobble on Professor Todd McKinney, pt 1

Tyler Gobble graduated from Ball State with a degree in English/Creative Writing in 2011. While there, he was a member of Writers’ Community, editor of The Broken Plate, and tutored in The Writing Center. He is currently a poetry fellow at Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, and he returned to BSU last spring for the In Print Festival after publishing his first book, MORE WRECK MORE WRECK. You can learn more about him at tylergobble.com. He’s standing on his desk to honor Professor Todd McKinney. 

I’m in-between desks right now and my knees seem to be melting alongside the polar ice caps, so I’ll be doing this hollering sideways on this bed. I’m so stoked to chatter a sec about a transformative educational experience I’ve had with my former professor / my poetry mentor / my now good pal Todd McKinney (I never know which distinction to use on resumes and introductions! Let’s use them all here!).

But which oh which educational experience to delve into here? The four years of camaraderie and poetic tutelage through The Writers’ Community? The eye-thumping crash course in creative nonfiction? The generous and solidifying independent study?

Yes and yes and yes.Headshot

This life met that life when I stumbled into a Ball State Writers’ Community meeting (Todd as faculty adviser), my hair windblown in my self-conscious mohawk, my hands deep in some jean pockets. And I never left, really. Through the years, Todd encouraged me to explore more (my Goodreads account submitted here as evidence for the pile of good books Todd and the other WC members loaned / turned me towards), to build the community I was falling in love with (I did my fair run of leadership positions with the WC, leading meetings / organizing events / publishing a group chapbook or two), and most importantly to just be a real person inside such a space (here’s my bad break-up! here’s a poem helping me through it!). As Robert Hass said, “One part of community must be the sense that other people’s inner lives are as real as one’s own.”

And that’s what’s beautiful about Todd’s teaching style. A poet can learn a lot from essay writing is one basic lesson, Todd’s poetic faculties turning me towards prose as a means to explore this inner life. Further, he pushes as much as he nurtures, he reveals as much as he demands. Every move I’ve made I’ve lugged along the life lessons and the literal lessons from that class, mainly the big-ol’-catfish-sized The Art of the Personal Essay anthology we read dang near everything from. I can reimagine his scribbles asking, “I see the poetic language here, but where’s the emotional backbone of this thing?” (Or something like that / my memory is often fog).

It’s those challenges that both nudged me to ask him to do an independent study together and ultimately what rewarded me most for doing so. It’s a real shame professors don’t get extra bones for doing these nice one-on-one classes with (over)eager students, but it’s just more testimony (and yet-another lesson for me here) of his generosity and bravery–to dive into something challenging and consuming alongside me, reward unknown. We did a jaunt through first books by contemporary American poets, along with my responses / my own poems / sidekick poetics essays, and met weekly (or so) to hatch it (whatever it is / was) out. And through those always lively (we’re both such poetry dorks!), sometimes heated (Todd was the first person to tell me he didn’t dig a poem I wrote! Thank goodness!), and always rewarding (my first published review and my first chapbook, Tell Me You Have Good News, found its form in that course) gatherings, I discovered exactly what I wanted out of a poetry life.

More than publications / cool gigs / five dollars, I wanted, as Dickinson declared, to have the top of my head taken off for the rest of this jagged life. And that’s my transformative educational experience, the catching of the bug, the desire / the urge to connect with folks about the poetry I / we love and to again and again be exposed and rewired by poetry. The intellect and the emotion swirling around together wherever I might turn up–throwing discs in Indiana, sweating in the back of a pick-up in Texas, or my face smooshed against a window high above this land. Yup, Todd’s dedication to poetry and his community shines how I hope this here Gob heart doth shine everywhere.


Stay tuned for part two of this post to read Professor McKinney’s response. 

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