October 18th, 2005

Random Acts

Good journey, Dr. Citino

Dr. David Citino's obituary

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One of the best professors and most dedicated teachers I have been privileged to know has left this world for the next. He was himself a gifted poet with many published works and was revered as a living legend among his peers and those of us whom he taught with great love and with great dedication. Although he loved to write and was nearly giddy with the joy of creation when he was working on something new, I think his greatest achievement in his craft was to stir the imagination and creativity in his students as a teacher. And Gods...what a teacher he was.

His classes were a joy in the atmosphere of creative stimulation taken to a higher level by his enthusiasm for the craft of writing. I looked forward to that buzz of creative energy afterglow that came from his infectious enthusiasm in class like a junkie looks forward to the next fix. I never watched the class yearning to be free in Dr. Citino's classes. Many times, the class would be so intensely entralled in some discussion that we would not leave and stayed long afterward to finish the debate, even after a long day at work and a late evening class. His classes energized me and made me feel rested and back in creative balance after a mentally challenging day at work.

Dr. Citino made me love poetry as he taught me to look deep for the poet's emotions and messages, or lack of emotions and messages. For Dr. Citino, what was missing within the poet's words was just as important as what was evident. He changed how I look and write poetry, and by teaching me to look within myself as well as to look at the world around me with different lenses, he profoundly changed me both as a person and as a writer.

In the Creative Writing program at Ohio State, every one admitted is required to explore the three traditional concentrations: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Before taking a class with Dr. Citino, as a fiction major, I dreaded the poetry requirement. After two classes with Dr. Citino, writing and reading poetry comes as easy to me now as writing fiction. He freed me from the mental boundaries set in place by the uninspiring drones who tried to drill monotonous sestinas and sonnets into my memory without ever really exploring the emotions and feelings underlying the words of the poets. Dr. Citino set me free to explore and play with the muses of the genre; he stripped away all the "rules" and expectations and let me fly into the uncharted territory of my imagination. Sometimes, I flew into the sun only to crash and burn. But he was always there with a kind comment and a suggestion penciled into the margin: "You're created rich and imaginative imagery here. Dig a bit deeper into this mood and this work will soar."

And soar it did, but only after he had relentlessly pushed me to drill into the bones by revision after revision. Like a sculptor who chisels away at a block of marble to free the statue struggling to escape inside, he pushed me to chisel away everything superficial to free the poem struggling to escape from inside me. When he chose it to read to the class on the last day, I knew I had never worked so hard on my craft or learned as much as I did about writing as I did under Dr. Citino's encouraging hand. I would not have been more thrilled and proud in winning a Noble Prize for literature than I was in winning his praise and his validation as a writer.

He knew that I was a fiction writer by nature, yet he coaxed out the poet in me joyfully. He prodded me when I needed prodded, always urging me to take chances when he could have easily demanded less and made it easy on himself. But instead, he saw the spark in the embers and fanned it to life. Dr. Citino was the fire from which the spark inside me jumped to the kindling and grew into an inferno. Thank you, Dr. Citino.

He was always interested in us as people, not merely as students in his class. Before he knew me as a student in his class, he knew my other work. He had already read several of my short stories and one scholarly essay that won a departmental prize because student work is circulated at departmental meetings within the English Department. On my first day in my first class with Dr. Citino, he quoted a line from one of my stories verbatim as we introduced ourselves by telling a little about ourselves to the class. I stood there absolutely stunned as the great poet talked about my work to the class. Over the course of the quarter, he asked to read several of my other stories and he loved to discuss them with me, offering praise and encouragement along with constructive suggestions and interpretations of what he saw in my work. He truly cared - both for me as a writer and as a person - and all that caring made him the poet and teacher that he was. His influence on me and countless other students and his peers will live on in the future work that he inspired in us all. Thank you, Dr. Citino, and good journey.
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