Smith “S.” Yarberry
Advanced Poetry with Mary Szybist was a really special class for me—it was the perfect class dynamic where there was a warmth and generosity of spirit among the group while also a set of high expectations for clarity, experimentation, and development over the semester.
Degree and Class Year
What three words would you use to describe L&C?
Your Time at L&C
What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?
I visited the campus my junior year of high school and immediately fell in love with the place—everything was so green, the students were shockingly friendly, and the emphasis on intellectual exploration made it seem like the perfect fit.
How did you decide on your major?
When I started at L&C, I came in as a confident international affairs major. However, I was in Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities Mary Szybist’s first-year seminar section, which quickly turned me toward poetry, writing, and the English department. A few months into my first year I was calling my mom to break the news that I was in fact going to be studying English literature (and writing poetry).
Describe the arts-related highlight(s) of each of your years on campus.
- First year: My first year at L&C was full of reading for classes like Experimental Fiction and Intro to Poetry. When not focusing on my studies—I was running around Portland going to concerts, spending all my extra cash at Powell’s, and going to my wonderful friends’ art shows, performances, etc.
- Second year: During my second year I went on my overseas program to Dublin for the spring, where I studied Irish culture, contemporary theatre, and literature. We traveled around the country and got to work with some local theatre groups (which was very outside of my immediate interests, but I ended up loving every moment of it).
- Third year: I took one of the most pivotal classes in my time at L&C during the fall of my third year—Professor Kurt Fosso’s Major Figures: William Blake. It was a tiny class of just six of us and we had our class in the English department’s small conference room. We read and talked about William Blake all semester and I fell deeply, madly in love with his writing. Now I’m writing my dissertation on him!
- Fourth year: One memorable experience of my fourth year is serving as the cocurator of the art show component of the Gender Studies Symposium. Although I don’t dabble in visual arts too much these days—it was something I was really excited and passionate about while in college. I found the Gender Studies program so encouraging. I got to see some really innovative art pushing at gender identities and boundaries, which served as a crucial turning point in my thinking.
What was your overall favorite arts-related class? Why?
Advanced Poetry with Mary Szybist was a really special class for me—it was the perfect class dynamic where there was a warmth and generosity of spirit among the group while also a set of high expectations for clarity, experimentation, and development over the semester. We each had the opportunity to write into our own projects, write into our own interests and obsessions (my project was on queer representations of angels). Additionally, we got to make broadsides for our end of the year reading with the printing press at Watzek Library, which is still one of the coolest art objects I’ve had the opportunity to create.
What was your overall favorite non-arts-related class? Why?
For one of my general education requirements I took Intro to Logic—it was deeply challenging but there was also this creativity in thinking that I hadn’t expected. I think about that class a lot as an example of taking something so outside of my norm that really compelled me—even if it wasn’t something I decided to pursue.
Where did you find community on campus?
One of the reasons I chose L&C was due to the small size of the school—meaning I felt like I knew everyone on campus (okay, not everyone, but a lot!). That said, I made most of my friends outside of my immediate program—I was one of the main coordinators of the Rusty Nail student cooperative. Many of the connections I made with people can be traced back to milling around before or after shows/readings at the co-op.
If you studied overseas while at Lewis & Clark, how did you choose your program?
I was on the first Dublin program since they had shut it down during the height of political tensions in the country. It was an exciting opportunity and there was a lot of enthusiasm about the program. Dublin, of course, is well known for its rich literary history, so I was immediately drawn to the idea of studying Yeats and Joyce while meandering the same streets they did and reading some of their influential works.
Did you have any arts internship or professional development opportunities while you were at Lewis & Clark?
I worked at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery on campus, interned at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and, just after graduating, interned at Milkweed Editions. These three different opportunities—a gallery, a nonprofit, and a small press publisher—were awesome experiences that really helped expand my knowledge of the practicalities of working in the arts in relation to studying the field itself.
What were some of your favorite arts experiences in the Portland arts scene?
I volunteered for PICA (the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art), specifically their experimental art festival, TBA (Time Based Art). I helped paint gallery walls and build installations—I also collected tickets and put chairs away. By volunteering I would get into the shows for free. That said, I got to see some truly radical art performances— everything from modern dance to avant-garde theatre productions.
Your Time Since L&C
How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for your PhD program?
I really loved the English department because it in many ways functioned as a hybrid department weaving between creative writing and literary studies. This ability to engage in literature from both of these perspectives still influences the way I think of myself as a writer, academic, and poet. I got my MFA in poetry at Washington University in Saint Louis and I am now working on my PhD at Northwestern University. Having this dual graduate experience in creative writing and a more traditional academic writing has not only been great for my own practice as a writer and thinker, but has also influenced my pedagogy. I teach undergraduate poetry and literature classes—and often find myself giving these hybrid assignments, lectures, and discussion questions that approach literature as art objects as well as historical documents. I wouldn’t be here without the connections I made with the faculty at L&C—especially Mary Szybist, Jerry Harp, and Kurt Fosso!
Now that you’ve been out of college for a while, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?
The most important thing I learned while at L&C was how to communicate my ideas and questions most articulately. By that I mean not only how to write clearly, but also how to speak in class and engage with my peers. It also meant selecting the right mediums to think in—a paper, a conversation, or a poem. L&C gave me such an important opportunity to find how to say what I needed to say—and how to say it—and I will always be very grateful for that gift.
What are your career goals?
I plan to pursue my writing. I have my first book of poems, A Boy in the City, forthcoming from Deep Vellum at the end of May 2022, which I’m excited about. Now I’m working on book number two! Additionally, I hope to become a professor where I can teach both creative writing and Romantic poetry.