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On Creative Writing and Virtual Community

January 11, 2021
Grady Trexler

Zoom isolation is real, especially for the other first-year students and I who haven’t yet had the chance to live on campus because of Princeton’s fully virtual instruction during the fall semester. Oftentimes, during classes or clubs I feel as though I’m the odd one out. Everyone who has been on campus has a shared vocabulary of buildings, Princeton traditions, courses, professors and dining halls. It’s been hard for me to feel a connection to Princeton — or with anyone save the people I've been living with, for that matter — when everything has been filtered through a screen. So, the little pockets of community I found throughout my first fall semester became especially meaningful to me, like the introductory poetry workshop I was able to take.

This year, the Program in Creative Writing offered workshops only for first-year students. I knew that I wanted to pursue creative writing at Princeton, so I applied and was accepted, and every Tuesday for the fall semester I met with eight other first years and our professor for two hours to discuss poetry. This was a completely new world for me, and one I was keen to experience. I’ve been writing creatively for most of my life — and writing poetry since high school — but had never before had the chance to devote so much time to it at a high level. At my high school, poetry was taught but rarely written, and I didn’t have a chance to spend more than a sporadic few weeks on it in a class. Being able to spend a whole semester writing, reading and editing poetry was something new and did wonders for my writing.

More often than not, we spent our time discussing things completely unrelated to poetry: how we were doing with midterms, what we were looking forward to doing over the weekend, one of our classmate’s new dogs. It was wonderful to be in such a small class and to all be first-years, all interested in poetry, meeting every week for the whole semester. Though, it wasn’t the same as being in the same classroom, but for a while each week, I was happy to join a Zoom call where I knew everyone and everyone knew my name, the type of poetry I liked to write and where I was living for the semester. 

This isn’t to knock larger classes — I took an introductory metaphysics course in the philosophy department which I loved — but a recommendation to try out a smaller class. Especially for your first semester of college, it helps to have a little pocket of the undergraduate community that you can feel at home in, even if it’s only in a Zoom call.