March 2, 2011KR BlogKR

Writers Workshop Profiles: David Baker

This post is the first in a series that will give a more in-depth biography for each of KR’s Writers Workshop instructors, as well as collect some of the web resources available for each of them. The Writers Workshop is a seven day intensive writing experience hosted annually by KR on the Kenyon College campus, focused on producing new work. In 2011, the program will run from June 18th-25th. Find more details on the program here.

During a reading and interview celebrating his 25 years as an English professor at Denison University, David Baker stated “I try to know the opening lines of a new poem by heart–and I mean six, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen lines by heart–and how it’s going to look, before I ever write it down.” That methodical, unrushed approach is a hallmark of Baker’s teaching, editing, and practicing as a writer. He’s the author of nine books of poetry and three books of criticism, and is the poetry editor of The Kenyon Review.

Baker has lived in the Midwest for more than forty years. He was born in Bangor, Maine before moving to Missouri in his youth. He now lives in Granville, Ohio, where he is the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing at Denison University. Baker earned his BSE and MA in English from Central Missouri State University. In addition to his more than twenty-five years at Denison, Baker has taught at Kenyon College, the Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. He also teaches in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, and many other journals. His most recent book of poems, 2009’s Never-Ending Birds (W.W. Norton), garnered extensive praise and admiration. Check out his reading of that volume’s “The Feast.”

When asked in a March 2010 interview “Why write?,” Baker responded “I write from a very vivid and sort of bipolar combination of inward and outward necessities. Writing gives me access, or gives me words for an interior world of emotions and thoughts and music that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Writing poetry does that. But writing poems also gives me a connective presence; poetry is language, and language’s use is to reach out and connect, to say something to someone. Both of those impulses, inward and outward, are especially intense in poetry.”

Baker is an active critic; his essays and interviews have appeared widely. Many are collected on the Kenyon Review website, and others are linked below. His most recent collection of criticism was Radiant Lyre: Essays on Lyric Poetry, a book he co-edited with the poet Ann Townsend.

In that same March 2010 interview, when asked about the relationship between teaching and writing, Baker states “I think if I weren’t a poet I’d still be a teacher. I know that if I weren’t a teacher I’d still be a poet. In my case, they went together.” Fortunately for us, Baker is returning to Gambier with his knowledge and his poems to teach poetry in the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop this summer.

Read “Never-Ending Birds,” first published in the New Yorker

Listen to a radio show with Baker on KUSP’s “The Poetry Show” from June 20th, 2010

Read “Too Many,” first published in the Paris Review

Read Baker’s essay “’I’m Nobody’: Lyric Poetry and the Problem of People”, from the Virginia Quarterly Review

Read six poems and two essays available from

Read sixteen more poems at the Poetry Foundation site.